Derek Cianfrance, 141 mins, 15
Jonathan Romney on The Place Beyond the Pines: A motorcycle bandit who runs out of gas
Ryan Gosling is a laconic outlaw riding through an epic, dirty America ... but he's no Brando
Saturday 13 April 2013
Audacity is so rare in today's cinema that film-makers automatically get merit points for just having the nerve. The nerve to do what? In the case of the unpredictable The Place Beyond the Pines, I'm loath to tell you, but I will – just the other side of that SPOILER ALERT! looming a few paragraphs away.
However, among other things, Derek Cianfrance has had the nerve to make a Ryan Gosling vehicle that isn't really one. He kicks off with a bravura tracking shot that starts in-close on Gosling's tattooed torso, then follows him as he slouches through the crowded, neon-soaked alleys of a fairground at night, and into the Big Top, where this moody, sinuous shot erupts into action. For Gosling is Luke, a hot-shot motorcyclist with a travelling fair whose speciality is the old three-bikes-in-a-globe-of-iron routine.
The film begins as a story of blue-collar love gone sour. The previous year, Luke blew into town just long enough to impregnate local woman Romina (Eva Mendes), who now has a baby boy. Tough, leathery loner Luke is a man of few words, but just enough of them to get out in a strangulated Brando mumble that he'd like to stick around and provide an income for mother and son. He does this by robbing local banks and then zooming off at full tilt.
Luke and his bike prove uncatchable until – and now a SPOILER ALERT! in 10ft flaming letters comes screeching into view – Luke runs foul of a police patrolman. The cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), is an all-round decent guy working his way up through the ranks, and is hailed as a hero. But to be a good cop in an American crime movie can only mean one thing – Avery will soon be ruinously undermined by moral compromise.
For quite a while, you marvel at what this film is attempting, and fully expect that it will bring it off. Director and co-writer Cianfrance showed in his previous films, Blue Valentine and the little-seen Brother Tied, that he has a talent for realist lyricism and a nice loose way with narrative flow. Here, he spins a compelling variant on what you might call the Psycho ploy – getting us totally involved with one character, then whipping that character off the stage to focus on another. It soon becomes clear what the upshot is: that an essentially heroic, big-hearted bad 'un (Luke) scores higher on the morality stakes than a good guy (Avery) who gets confused and ends up playing the same rotten game as his superiors. In other words, this is a modern Western opposing two differently tragic men – doomed outlaw and flawed sheriff.
In the final stretch, however, the film becomes too explicitly a parable about bad karma – as the drama's third act is played out by the two men's now teenaged sons, one of whom finally gets to ride off into the wild, untamed landscape. (The film's mythic-sounding title comes from the Mohawk name for the place now called Schenectady, New York.)
Refreshingly twisty till about halfway, The Place ... gets less dynamic from there on, and ends up as another of those earnest American dramas about how boys would turn out right if only their dads would be there for them. All credit to Cianfrance for his ambition and his willingness to stretch out: this is another noble example of American cinema's facing up to the new TV drama and its command of long-form narrative. But The Place ... is a needlessly long and ultimately rather arduous ride, a little too close to the solemnities of films such as Babel and their ambition to do the Human Condition through braided stories.
Still, much of it had me hooked. It has great casting (along with the stars, you get Ray Liotta, Harris Yulin, Ben Mendelsohn doing his peerless abject thing). And that first act with Gosling and a commandingly downbeat Mendes – this is dirty-realism Americana with a kinetic kick. Those searing candy-coloured lights! Those breakneck road chases! That widescreen, gritty-but-glorified cinematography by Sean Bobbitt! The film has nerve, it has verve, it has surprises, and for something like 100 minutes, it'll more than do.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor David Dinsmore reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Avengers Age of Ultron 'after credits' scene leaks online days before cinema release
Groundhog Day musical to premiere at Old Vic from Matilda theatre director
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate