The Place Beyond The Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines, tells stories of fatherhood with a fine-tuned generosity, as haunted men cycle through patterns spinning out of control.

Breathing and carnival noises - Ryan Gosling, covered in tattoos up to his throat, bleached blond, with a knife, invites us to follow him. Across the fairground we stroll, as he puts on layers of clothing, first a torn tank top, then a jacket, striptease in reverse. He signs autographs for little girls. He is Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver for the carnival. There is Eva Mendes as Romina, in a tank top of her own; does he remember her? He gives her a ride. The carnival comes to nowhere land Schenectady, New York, once a year and blows the man with the permanent tear into town. At closer inspection, you will recognise the tattoo as a tiny dagger with a drop of ink blood nestled underneath his left eye.


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The short affair between Luke and Romina had consequences. Since the carnival performer's last visit, Romina gave birth to Luke's son. She also has a new fiance, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who is more than happy to take on the role of father.

Luke is not needed here, but something happens to him, when he holds the infant in his arms. The mother's mother tells him "he is yours". In a great scene, the drawings on Gosling's body are continued by the toy car prints on his baby's onesie. Hieroglyphics emerge, and baby clothes form patterns that conflict with the messages written on the tough man's skin.

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Costume designer Erin Benach does a remarkable job of narrating symbols without losing a sense of real-life plausibility. In a sequence at the diner where Romina works, she wears a top that visually splits her upper body in half. Luke starts to put on his tattered T-shirts inside out. Church windows and exposed tree roots join the previously unjoined, a typeface of unattainable bliss.

Similar to the pace with which the audience begins to decipher the writing on Gosling's body (does it really say 'heart throb' around his adam's apple?), Luke turns from speed racer to bank robber, with the help of woodsy car repair hermit Robin Van Der Zee, an ageless man, who lives in the clearing beyond the pines, and is played by Ben Mendelsohn. Robin has a hint of border collie in him and runs towards a flock of Canada Geese across a meadow in the woods, while the two men go for a walk, in a light-hearted, most likely improvised gem of a Gosling scene.

Mendelsohn, with the same acuteness he gives his dog trading idiot robber in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly (2012), adds a mysteriously benign presence. Both directors love to give the Australian actor a filthy face and dirty hands, in a more literal sense than they do with Ray Liotta, who plays the good bad guy in Killing Them Softly and a badly corrupt police officer called Deluca under Cianfrance's direction, looking clean as a whistle.

The sky over Schenectady turns lavender, pink packets of artificial sweetener promise hope, and an unforgettable first ice cream, captured in a photograph, is being arranged to solve the riddle of legacy in the future. Hitchcock showed us in Psycho, how easy it was, to have audiences jump ship in mid-stream. Anyone who played cops and robbers as a child, knows it too.

Bradley Cooper portrays police officer Avery Cross, a rookie from a wealthy family. He chews gum to calm his nerves. His father, a former State Supreme Court Judge, sends a friend, investigator Bill Killcullen, after an incident that brought his son into the hospital. The screen crackles, as we see both men think, in fearless mind-to-mind combat. Bruce Greenwood, as Killcullen, on the surface, interrogates neutrally (as he does Captain Whip Whitaker in Robert Zemeckis's Flight as pilot union representative Charlie Anderson). Greenwood, in both movies, can be cryptic and appraising at once. Avery, who also has an infant son, might have made a mistake.

The Place Beyond The Pines catches more paternal instincts and filial rebellion: More fathers, more sons, corruption and the realisation that "a limp goes a long way in politics" catapult the movie 15 years forward. If it weren't for actions as careful and fine as a police chief picking up money with a tissue, you might think Cianfrance and his writing partners Ben Coccio and Darius Marder have crammed too many stories into one.

Cianfrance, who explored romantic love in Blue Valentine (2010) and unearthed his actors' hidden talents through improvisations, could have called The Place Beyond The Pines, Fathers And Sons.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2013
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On discovering that he has a baby son, a circus motorcycle stunt rider approaches responsibility by robbing banks, but runs afoul of a corrupt politician.
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Read more The Place Beyond The Pines reviews:

Merlin Harries ****1/2

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writer: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen, Dane DeHaan

Year: 2012

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2013

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