Premise: If it’s not obvious by his awful tattoo selection, stunt motorcyclist Luke (Ryan Gosling) makes terrible life choices. Most recently, he has knocked up a young woman (Eva Mendes) he met the previous time he was in Schenectady, NY, and now feels obligated to take care of his one-year-old son. His best means of providing for his son in the quickest way possible? Robbing banks. Meanwhile, rookie cop Avery (Brad Cooper) is also raising a one year old son, while struggling to deal with the internal corruption of the Schenectady police department. Perhaps in the future, these two gentlemen’s sons will meet in high school? PREDICTABLE SPOILER ALERT: THEY DO.
-The film opens with a three-minute long shot of Luke preparing for a traveling carnival motorcycle stunt. I approve starting any and all movies with ambiguously cool single take long shots.
-Ryan Gosling has gotten really, really good at playing the stoic badass with minimal dialogue. The dude has an epic stare. And he has the carefree, unegoistic attitude of a much uglier man. Bradley Cooper also stepped it up with this one. While I enjoyed his frantic weirdo in Silver Linings Playbook, he stepped out of his element in Pines and acted in a role that didn’t feel like I was just watching Brad Cooper be himself. They also did a great job creating a mythical outlaw type figure out of Luke, and played well off the straightforward sell-out nature of Avery. I guess I’m saying that B-Coop brings his “A” game, but this whole movie is worth watching solely for Baby Goose being this generation’s James Dean.
-This film really takes advantage of the three act structure, though I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing? Right now I’m leaning towards good. The first act is Luke’s story, the second act is Avery’s story, and the third act is the kids’ story. Each one almost feels like its own little film. While that may or may not appeal to you, when I was finished watching the 2+ hour film, I really appreciated how the two stories of the fathers were independent plots that tied the generational gap together in the end. It maybe didn’t have the greatest dialogue in every scene, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a really good screenplay.
-It’s an incredibly ambitious film, probably one of the most epic $15 million dollar movies I’ve ever seen. At least in terms of thematic scope. The film spends a generous amount of time developing the characters (even the side ones), and it pays off in the grand scheme of the storytelling. The development of the fathers even rolls into the characters of the sons… OH, I SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE.
-It’s also really well made, with a lot of thought and care put into the cinematography and editing. I think the best way to describe the pacing of the film is that it lets the story “breathe”, if that makes sense. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t mind showing you a twenty-second shot of a dude riding a motorcycle, when a normal movie would have only shown it for five.
-Ben Mendelsohn is a great freakin’ actor. I don’t know where he came from; but in the past year I’ve seen him be awesome in this, Animal Kingdom, and Killing Them Softly.
-Fantastic music score and soundtrack selections.
-You know a minor thing I really liked about this movie? It used a ton of really long dissolves. More movies need long dissolves.
-You know what other minor thing I liked about this movie? It has a cool title that doesn’t really even have that much to do with anything. The Place Beyond the Pines is a more memorable title than it could have been. Here’s some worse titles I just came up with: Schenectady Blues. Fathers and Sons. Cops and Robbers. Oh, this one is really generic, and I could totally see some jackass studio executive trying to name the movie this: Blood Lines.
-Even though I enjoyed watching the entire thing, it was still probably slightly too long.
-Maybe it’s because the transition between the first act and the second act was so smooth and perfect; the fact that the transition between the second and third act is reduced to a text title card seems like a disappointment.
-On that note, the third act is easily the worst act. It’s fairly predictable, and moderately cliché, but it ties the whole story together and makes all three acts work as a whole. Since Luke’s story (act one) was great, and Avery’s story (act two) was pretty good, the fact that act three is only alright (not terrible) isn’t that big of a deal because Pines has already thoroughly impressed me up to that point. It’s a logical end to the story, but it still feels like they are toying with elements that I could easily predict, as if I wasn’t going to be able to predict them. That’s also compared to the first two acts in which I didn’t know what was coming next in either of those stories.
-The kid who plays Avery’s son was a bit… much. Also, both sons were noticeably and obnoxiously sweaty. Like, they had sweat gloss on their skin at all times. What gives?
Final Thoughts: I was at my cousin’s place over the weekend to watch Game of Thrones and eat their delicious food, and at some point during the night I got criticized for recommending Beasts of the Southern Wild so highly, because they didn’t care much for the carefree metaphorical nature of the little film. And here we are again; another indie film with high ambitions that I really liked, and now I feel a little hesitant to recommend it to people. It’s certainly more literal and accessible than Beasts, but Pines is also a low-key, 140-minute, multi-generational family story that has many stretches of not much happening (plot-wise, not cinematic-wise). It’s from the director of Blue Valentine, if that says anything. And Pines is certainly better than Blue Valentine (which I also liked, FYI), but it’s a good measure for determining whether you can put up with the smarmy camera work and pacing of this new film. If I may go ahead and be a snooty piece of crap right now… The Place Beyond the Pines is more of a “film lover’s film”, and not so much a “movie lover’s movie”. [sips 18-year-old scotch out of Casablanca travel mug]
8.5 out of 10