TIFF 2012 – The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, Emory Cohen, and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (PBtP) attracted me with its all-star cast and the hint that it may be the unofficial sequel to last year’s wildly successful Drive. I’m only joking about the sequel business, but if I accidentally refer to PBtP as Drive 2: Ride, then please forgive me. Everyone is obsessed with The Gos lately, and for good reason, but the rest of the cast solidified this as a must see movie at TIFF this year. I’m often guarded when I see movies with a mega-cast, but considering that PBtP was helmed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the movie was well over two hours in length, I was hoping that this would not be a case of style over substance. While not a perfect movie, I’m very happy to say that PBtP may be the best thing I have seen at TIFF so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-generational story about identity, inheritance, the sins of fathers, and life in general. Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who works as little more than a side-show performer at a travelling carnival. His work is dangerous and he has long ago been hardened by it; his lean body etched with tattoos and covered by tattered clothing. The last time he found himself in the small town the carnival is currently passing through he had a one night fling with a cute young waitress (Mendes), however on this occasion the same waitress seems rather cold, as she harbours a bit of information that is about to change his world. Cooper on the other hand is a young police officer whose role on the street is causing a lot of tension at home. To go into further detail would ruin the experience at the cinema. Characters are fleshed out, important life decisions are made, and paths cross.

As I’ve said, PBtP is not perfect, but there are so many compelling elements that it’s hard not to be very excited discussing this movie. The performances are absolutely top-notch, nearly across the board. Gosling channels some of the same energy that made his Driver so compelling, but he adds a layer of self-doubt and fear which makes his character in PBtP much more accessible and identifiable for viewers. Mendes doesn’t have as much screen time as many of the other lead characters, but when she’s onscreen we see a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic of the characters she normally plays. Mendes has definitely added an interesting dimension to her career with this performance. The young guys, DeHaan and Cohen have an amazing dynamic  throughout the latter part of the movie. It’s hard to believe that they have not acted together before (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also, the supporting actors, particularly Greenwood and Mendelsohn turn in very strong performances. Despite very limited screen time, I don’t think Greenwood has ever been better. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory at best. His performance is inconsistent, as he’s great onscreen when the situations aren’t that serious, but when things get emotional it feels like he doesn’t have the repertoire to deliver a convincing scene, tear, or emotional line. This becomes even more obvious next to Gosling’s wonderful performance.

The script and direction by Cianfrance are equally as good as the high level performances. PBtP is a multi-generational story, and as such there are gaps of time that we traverse in seconds to catch up with the story. When this happens in a movie it can feel like rebooting your computer – a necessary amount of waiting must be done to get back to business. Thankfully these ‘reboots’ in PBtP fly by, and even though we find ourselves in a new storyline, it always turns out to be a very intriguing one, almost immediately. If I had to say something critical about the writing and directing I would say that PBtP does not tug on the heartstrings as masterfully as the filmmakers may have liked. Certain scenes at the end which should have been very powerful, especially considering how much time we had spent with the characters, but they end up feeling a little flat. Despite my emotional detachment from certain characters and outcomes I was not intellectually detached. The various storylines had me intrigued throughout and the ending was certainly satisfying, although definitely not a tearjerker. When I look back on the experience as a whole, I would be hard pressed to think of a better movie I have seen at TIFF so far this year. The Place Beyond the Pines is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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