Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The long opening tracking shot marks the intro of an enrapturing performance by Ryan Gosling as he repeatedly flips a switch knife, breathing steadily as he paces back and forth in dim lighting with tattoos covering his body. He then strides past the bustling crowds and revolving carousels of the carnival, their colorful lights flashing in the night. Slipping on a worn red leather jacket, he steps through the narrow entrance of a tent and is met with a large chorus of electrified screams. Luke Glanton mounts his motorcycle within a spherical cage followed by two others, their engines roaring. The three stunt riders race in rapid orbits, blurred figures shooting past each other, escaping collision just by a hair’s breadth. The audience takes a glimpse into the drifter-lifestyle of this quiet, intense character through his perspective - a motorcyclist performing the same life threatening stunts each night to a crowd of strangers.

I typically have no problem with the use of shaky cam as long as it is not overused. Thankfully, director Derek Cianfrance, who previously worked with Ryan Gosling on Blue Valentine in 2010, altered the style of camera work or editing at pivotal moments. For instance, when Luke rides through the thick forest, his motorcycle shoots forth over fallen branches and ledges, the thundering rumble of the engines drowning out everything else. Suddenly, when he realizes he is not alone in the woods, there’s a motion blur effect as time seems to slow and the two exchange glances with trees whipping past them. All we could see is the red streak of his leather jacket surrounded by a sea of green. Furthermore, one of the most stunning scenes involves the camera soaring through the woods, feeling as light as air, as it follows the motorcyclist bolting down the curving road with the chords of Mike Patton’s poignant soundtrack, “The Snow Angel,” reverberating in my mind long after the film has ended. The song choices were brilliant, perfectly accompanying the images and emotions on screen. At this inspirational, transient moment, the camera is smooth and swooping high above the ground, in contrast with the handheld camera work used throughout the rest of the film.

Upon laying eyes on his infant son for the first time, Luke goes through a dramatic transformation. He instantly regrets abandoning “his family” and takes drastic, impulsive actions to provide for Romina (Eva Mendes) and Jason by robbing banks. A fantastic line by Ben Mendelsohn, his partner in crime, “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder,” perfectly foreshadows Luke’s fate. In the second act, we are introduced to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop regarded as a hero who values justice despite the fact that a discreet act of injustice ironically brought him to fame in the first place. Meanwhile, Ray Liotta acquaints him with the corrupt ways of the police force, as Avery struggles with the morality of the situation. Nevertheless, he makes the difficult choice of living with this secret and even exposing the corruption of the Police Department through blackmail.

What makes The Place Beyond the Pines unique is the fact that Derek Cianfrance ties together three distinctive stories through thematic conflicts in an epic tale of generations. The legend and rivalry of Luke Glanton and Avery Cross are passed on to their sons, Jason and AJ. There’s an irony in the characteristics of these two friends turned enemies. Avery Cross has worked his way up the ranks to become an ambitious politician, exhibiting further hypocrisy of his principles regarding justice later in life similar to his early days. Yet, by neglecting his family, his son AJ matures into an arrogant troublemaker headed in the direction of Luke Glanton’s criminal activities. Meanwhile, Jason grows up in a loving home with a normal personality, but is drawn into trouble by befriending AJ, who happens to influence a chain of events that leads to Jason’s discovery of his father’s identity.

This epic drama is having a great run at the box office considering it's in limited release, only being shown in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles. I happened to get the last ticket (seat E13, my favorite number) for a screening in LA, and I consider The Place Beyond the Pines as the best film of 2013 so far and can't wait to see it again in wider release!

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