The Place Beyond the Pines — The Desperation of James Dean
Posted on April 1, 2013
Last Saturday, Heron and I went down to the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood to see The Place Beyond the Pines. It came out the day before, and we really knew nothing about the movie beforehand. I saw that Eva Mendes, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper were in the movie, and I thought that sounds like a terrible mix. The film is pitched as a crime movie, but in the end, it seems to be more about familial relationships, generational feuds and the tension between father and sons. Plus, there is a lot of dirt-bike riding and bank robbing. For the women: Gosling’s abs; for the men: Mendes without a bra. (Let me take that back. There are probably a lot of men interested in Gosling and a lot of women interested in Mendes, too.)
So, what did I think of this movie? Before I tell you my opinion, I want you to listen to what others had to say about this movie.
In the LA Weekly, Scott Fondus writes that he’s unsure if Gosling is parodying masculinity. It seems to me that Fondus is unsure how to read Gosling’s character, Handsome Luke, in the movie. He also calls Mendes disposable. “But the disparate pieces,” Fondus later writes, “never quite jell; the movie is all trees and no forest.”
The LA Times gave the movie a tepid review: “The movie is intimate in its telling, sweeping in its issues and stumbles only occasionally.” The writers riffs on the economic conditions the director, Derek Cianfrance, loves to focus on and how these people are on the fringes of desperation. Cool. I feel yah.
Justin Craig at Fox News, well, he basically calls for an oscar — but not really: “It’s usually far too early to even utter the words “Oscar,” but “The Place Beyond the Pines” is movie gold. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper have never been better than in Derek Cianfrance’s (“Blue Valentine”) brooding, immersive crime drama.” I was generally surprised that someone at Fox News would like this movie, but maybe I shouldn’t be such a stereotyping asshole.
A.O. Scott at the New York Times has this to say: “It goes on too long: the three-part story, spread over nearly two and a half hours, represents a triumph of sympathetic imagination and a failure of narrative economy. But if, in the end, the film can’t quite sustain its epic vision, it does, along the way, achieve the density and momentum of a good novel.” Good for Scott. He’s telling it like he sees it. The movie is long — over two hours — and the story has three parts, and it makes an abrupt shift in point of view in the middle that is shocking and almost absurd. I hear you. Don’t worry though. I’m getting to my point. First, watch the trailer:
Now I’m not a movie critic, and I don’t pretend to be. But I know story. And I’m going to say what all the other critics were too scared to say; The Place Beyond the Pines will be a classic movie, and Gosling’s performance, his character, will become legendary. Gosling as Handsome Luke reminds me of a James Dean. The characters in The Place Beyond the Pines and a move like Rebel Without a Cause — Handsome Luke and Jim Stark — are remarkable and similar, because they are on the edge of desperation (to borrow a term from the NY Times), searching for something to care about, to believe in; once they find that something, there is no letting go. And there is usually violence and an unbridled pursuit of disaster. Gosling captures, in my opinion, this rare energy that goes beyond masculinity and into the realms of madness. A controlled madness poking below the surface. A madness, a failure to fit within certain roles, an inability to accept the rules of society. In Handsome Luke’s case, the rule that he is not allowed to see his child. He’s one of those characters who Kerouac would have wanted to follow down the streets lit by hysterical roman candles.
Of course, there are elements of this movie at first glance that can seem pedantic. Yes, there are a lot of bank robbing scenes, and the main character is robbing banks to provide for his family. Yes, there is a bad-ass dude riding a bike — but it’s a dirt bike. Yes, the movie has another role where Bradley Cooper’s character has a tremendous amount of douchey vibes. And yes, the movie does have segments that shift abruptly and seem to make the movie feel long.
But Alfred Hitchcock was accused of something similar when Psycho came out. The main character, the woman who is killed in the Bates Motel, is suddenly gone from the movie, leaving the story to continue without her. It broke the normal and accepted narrative structure, and the story seems to begin again — though it circles around again at the end.
And without ruining the movie, The Place Beyond the Pines makes a similar move, but this is what I love about the movie. It doesn’t succumb to the normal rules of modern cinema; it doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot who can’t sit still for over two hours; and it reminds the viewer that stories come in all shapes and sizes. This movie and Gosling and Cooper’s performances will be remembered for a long time. Plus, the two kids at the end are amazing. Go see this movie and let me know what you think. As always, your comments are more than welcome. Love to hear what you thought of the movie.