Directed by Derek Cianfrance. 140 mins.
Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)
Like his previous picture, Blue Valentine, Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is another beautifully shot study of non-nuclear families and the way in which they may transform – or break – over time. While the film still has the aesthetics of a Sundance flick (complete with a score by Mike Patton, frontman of Faith No More, Tomahawk, Mr. Bungle, and three dozen other bands), its substance is closer to a European epic such as Bertolucci’s 1900 or Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. Hell, there’s even a big spoonful of Ibsen motifs thrown into the mix. It’s a tall order, and I appreciate Cianfrance’s courage to attempt a saga of American tragedy.
To attempt, however, is not necessarily to accomplish. Beyond the Pines is a far from perfect film. The second half (you can tell exactly where they would have placed the intermission if the film had been released in the 60s) just can’t match the pacing and intensity of the first. The Sophocletic drama is often too heavy-handed, and the newly introduced character simply aren’t as interesting as the film’s leading men and women. All of this is a considerable letdown since I fully believe that a writer/director of Cianfrance’s talent should have been able to follow through with his ambition.
Perhaps a crucial piece of the Pines puzzle is sitting on some cutting room floor somewhere. The film clocks in at a hefty 140 minutes, and I know that Cianfrance’s first cut was significantly longer than that. If someone from the Criterion Collection is reading this, I wouldn’t mind seeing an extended cut one of these days, so keep that in mind.
While Beyond the Pines does not rise to greatness, there’s still lots to recommend here. The performances by all the major players – Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper – are some of their finest work. I really need to tip my nonexistent hat to Cooper, an actor whom I usually find to be distractingly conspicuous, for disappearing into his role. The inclusion of Ray Liotta is a nice touch, and I thank Cianfrance for not overusing him. Like crime-drama cologne, a little Liotta is all you need.
Some of the best scenes in the film come not from it’s A-list but from Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Robin, Gosling’s mentor/accomplice. Mendelsohn has been working in Australian film and television since before I was born, but American viewers have become more familiar with him in recent years (recent credits include the psychotic bank robber Pope in Animal Kingdom, corrupt corporate magnate Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises, and air-headed junkie Russell in Killing Them Softly). Someone on Twitter a few weeks back tweeted that Mendelsohn would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the next five years. I don’t doubt it.
(Seen and originally written on 2013-03-29)