Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoSunTimes (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Chicago SunTimes (R. Roeper) review

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013] (directed and cowritten by Derek Cienfrance along with Ben Coccio) is a well if heavily structured story in three parts about consequences, consequences of actions and situations that are perhaps beyond the characters in the story's control, but consequences nonetheless.  The obvious structure of the story may initially bother some viewers even if the parts do ultimately add-up to produce a final rather poignant/powerful result.   Yes, folks this is an "indie film" even if it has a star-studded cast, the result being that culminates in an ending that's very different (and on several levels) from what one generally expects from "Hollywood" fare.

The story is set in (upstate) Schenectady, New York.  Part I of the story centers on a bleached blond small-time motorcycle stuntman named Luke (played by Ryan Gosling).  As part of a carnival troupe, he's been on a circuit and has arrived in Schenectady after a one year absence.  After performing an intricate if utterly meaningless stunt -- he and two other motorcyclist stunt-drivers ride their bikes in a necessarily synchronized yet also quite random manner inside a small 15-20 foot (5-7 m) diameter perforated steel globe to the amazement of onlookers -- he runs into a young local woman named Romina (played by Eva Mendes) who he had met when the carnival had been in town a year before.  He also finds to his surprise that she's had a boy, his, since their last meeting that one gets the sense had probably been a one night stand.

Romina actually doesn't expect anything from Luke.  Indeed, she's already assembled a life (support system) without him.  She has a job as a waitress, a boyfriend named Kofi (played by Mahershala Ali) who appears more than willing to raise "baby Jason" as his own, and she also has her mother (played by Olga Merediz).

Luke, however, feels guilty and responsible.  He tells Romina that his own father had never stuck around when he young.  So he summarily quits his carnie job and decides to stay in Schenectady to try to provide for the kid (and, dare he hope ... perhaps even for Romina).

But where can someone like Luke find a means to support himself, let alone a possible wife and child, in a town in which he knows next to nobody (and the one person he knows, Romina, would, truth be told, prefer that just leave and continue his past life as a carnie stunt-rider)?  So it's pretty much inevitable that he gets involved in crime...

Enter Part II of the story, centering on a rather strange young cop named Avery (played by Bradley Cooper).   Avery was from an upper middle-class background, his father being a judge.  Yet after finishing law school and passing the bar, Avery had decided to leave the more or less obvious direction that his life had been heading-in to become a beat cop in his hometown of Schenectady.  He too had a young son named AJ, and a wife named Jennifer (played by Rose Byrne).  Jennifer didn't really understand why her husband had made the radical change in direction that he did, but was willing to accept it (for a while) perhaps hoping that his joining the police force rather than pursuing a career as a lawyer was "just a phase."

Well the small time criminal Luke and the small town beat-cop Avery eventually run into each other ... and the result of their encounter changes both of their lives (often in not immediately obvious ways) and of everyone around them.

The final repercussions of their encounter extend into the late high school years of their two sons Jason (now played Dane DeHaan) and AJ (now played by Emory Cohen).  This forms Part III of the story.  After all, the two high schoolers were both "from Schenectady" even if from "very different parts of town."  And since those late high school years are rather formative years in the lives of people, the effects of Luke's and Avery's presumably extend even beyond...

Indeed, by the end of the movie the viewer is tempted to reflect back to the initial scene in the film which featured those three carnival stunt drivers riding their motorcycles around in that seemingly random yet also supremely synchronized fashion inside that small steel globe (cage).   Now what if one of those three drivers crashed...?

Again, this classically "indie film" is definitely not typical "Hollywood" fare ...

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  1. Father, a very powerful film indeed. I could write long and detailed on this superb story, but in light of your more than adequate treatment, I think a couple of things will suffice.

    Act 1 is some of the most exciting film-making I've seen. It even rivals Michael Mann's Heat or Ben Affleck's The Town. Ryan Gosling's Luke is purely fearless as the aimless motorcycle daredevil and outlaw. Every moment with him is on-edge.

    Act 2, Avery has long passed the point of any sympathy. Ambition is not a bad thing, until it takes you away from the people who need you.

    Act 3, where the teens interact, is so sad. Although Jason, son of Luke and the needy Romina, has a loving stepfather who attended to his spiritual and other needs, he seems destined for a life of danger, failure and tragedy. You don't seem to care as much about Avery's son A.J., because he's had choices to make the best of his life.

    So glad to see a priest playing the role of priest. The baptism scene felt authentic, even causing me to sign the Cross.

    All-in-all a very sad and very brilliant film. I'm grateful to have seen it. I just wanted to point out the parts that were meaningful to me.

  2. I agree with you that this was one of the better films of the year thusfar. It's also remarkable that films like this, DON'T COST a lot of money to make and yet they are often so much better (thought provoking, etc) than far more expensive fare.

    I also agree with you that the film-maker here did a good job with the Baptism. Sometimes I wonder why many film makers often have such problems with filming such common liturgical rites as baptism.

    Finally I learned that film derives its name from the name of the town -- Schenactady, NY -- where it was filmed. In the native Mohawk language, Schenectady means "the place near or beyond the pines" (,_New_York)

    All one would need to do is ask for some help.

    - Fr. Dennis