Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

I really should get around to writing about a movie I loathe. I'm sure all four of you kindhearted readers have had it with my gushing, and are ready for some EXTREME FILM OBLITERATION-TION-tion-tion-tion-tion. I must ask that you stay strong and power through one more compliment-filled review, however, for today is not the day I whip out my most delicately-worded criticisms. Today is the day I raise my glass of chocolate milk and toast to the smoldering beauty that is Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines.  

This synopsis is taken from Rotten Tomatoes because I didn't have the mental strength to sum up this three-part epic in a few sentences: The Place Beyond the Pines explores the consequences of motorcycle rider Luke's (Ryan Gosling) fateful decision to commit a crime to support his child. The incident renders him targeted by policeman Avery (Bradley Cooper), and the two men become locked on a tense collision course which will have a devastating impact on both of their families in the years following. 

FIRST OFF: THE MUSIC. Painfully beautiful. My stomach hurts just thinking about The Snow Angel, a recurring theme that features a deep, ringing piano and thunderous booms of disorienting chords. Mike Patton composed the majority of the score, and contributions were made by Ennio Morricone and Bon Iver. That's right. The film ends with Bon Iver's song, "The Wolves (Act I and II)." It's emotional torture. I was trying to figure out why that tune was given such a monumental place in the film, and apart from its fantastically relevant opening lyrics—(Someday my pain/ Someday my pain will mark you)—I think the instrumentals made it a perfect song with which to end the film. It's filled with a mixture of synthesized melodies and haunting vocals, which reflect the fundamental themes of the movie: circumstance and choice.

Derek Cianfrance describes Luke as a marked man. After he tells Romina (Eva Mendes), "I never had my father and look at the way I turned out," it's clear that negative events in his life set him on the twisted path that led him to where he is today: scarred, alone, and ashamed. That's the synthesizerthe controlling push that certain events in our lives seem to have, leading us to and influencing the choices we must make like an overpowering machine. And then the song's natural harmonies return. Bon Iver's voice reverberates with each harmonized chord, acting as a powerful representation of how our own choices can echo across generations, just as Luke's and Avery's do.
On top of the fantastic story and agonizingly wonderful music were enough incredible performances to fill up at least 40 Oscar ballots.  How did the film's cast and crew survive being so close to such fiery talent on a daily basis?! This is...*whispers*...one of the few movies in which I've been genuinely, over-the-moon impressed with Ryan Gosling. He had such a palpable presence on screen, and communicated the most complex emotions with just a quick jaw clench or flinch of his eyebrow. And BCoops! Spectacular! It was so interesting to see how his character changed and matured as the film went on, going from a nervous officer, to a hot-shot political figure, to a struggling father, and finally, to a cowering man expressing the guilt that's weighed on him for more than 15 years. Ben Mendelsohn played his part flawlessly, as well, providing a fresh breath of vigor and comic relief to the intense storyline. (Quick sidenote: I loved reading about how Derek Cianfrance cast Mendelsohn for the role. Why go through the nerve-wracking pain of auditioning for a movie when you can rip out your teeth instead?!)

Out of all of the film's talented actors and actresses, however, I was most in awe of Dane DeHaan. (And no, it's not just because he's a sleepy-boy-look-alike of Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio. Although it certainly makes him all the more fun to stare at.) He kept the film's momentum running strong throughout the poetic third act, and that's no easy feat, considering the edge-of-your-seat action that proceeded it. 'Nother sidenote: in order to mirror the close relationship of Luke and his motorcycle, DeHaan opted to build his character's BMX bike, which strengthened their bond and made the bike a best friend of sorts. I can't get enough of these little behind-the-scenes tidbits, especially when they illustrate just how dedicated some actors and actresses can be.

Summin' it up, The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious, gorgeously-shot epic that combines the suspense of a crime drama with the emotional depth of intimate character studies, all while exposing the generation-spanning consequences of the choices we make. If you haven't gotten around to seeing it yet, DO SO. Right now. Right this very second. It's one hell of a ride.

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