This movie is not a masterpiece, but it’s really worth to see and I am going to tell you why I highly recommend it. It deserves a long and frank personal review in this blog.
The Place beyond the Pines: the whole story in a metaphoric title
The graceful extreme sadness of this movie is already implied in the title. “The place beyond the pines” is the approximate translation from the poetic Mohawk name given to the city where the movie takes place: Schenectady. This city in economic downturn is in itself a good allegory. As the American dream turned into a nightmare in the home of General Electric with a promising manufacturing industry, each character sees his life unexpectedly changing in a bad way through different circumstances. A motorbike performer turns into a bank robber because he appears to have a son now. An honest low-ranking officer turns into a hero (murderer?) because he’s doing his job too well.
Many scenes take place in beautiful dark forests. What is there beyond those beautiful pines? Always shadow: our dark sides, the dark side of life, and those things you can’t control, like your past and where you come from. Life and death.
An amazing emotional long drama
First word that comes to my mind when I think of that one: length. But 140 minutes for a pretty simple plot, that may sound like a boring long movie. Forget about that! You don’t see time is going by while watching The Place beyond the Pines since that length is justified.
Let me tell you first what reasons made me pick that one in my plane from CDG to JFK (see my previous article called “on the road edvitam aeternam”). If I remember well, I had to choose between – amongst others - Monsters University and The Great Gasby, which I saw displayed on 85% of the screens. This is just the expected result of the overwhelming promotion which began to piss me off at the Cannes festival PLUS I don’t have much sympathy for DiCaprio. Don’t ask me why, this is an absolute arbitrary judgment. So, why the hell wasn’t I part of the majority? I came across the soundtrack before flying, that’s it. Of course I mean the trailer, not the mere soundtrack, but I couldn’t remember anything from the trailer, only from that beautiful music that lets you know the movie is supposed to make you wipe away a tear. Here you go:
Hearing that, you also know from the beginning this is that kind of well...long and emotional movie.
The second reason is easy: bankable sex-symbols.
Obviously it’s a matter of taste, but I am pretty into Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, more into the latter by the way. This is why I actually spent almost the whole first part of the movie waiting for his appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I love and definitely recognize Gosling’s great charisma and Eva Mendez’ acting, but I was waiting for the action to become more dramatic. I haven’t read the synopsis before so I wasn’t waiting for Luke’s death, but the story of a young man doing spectacular bank robberies to provide for his young family was not as fascinating as the rest in the end. And I had this feeling. When “the rest” finally appears along with Avery, I began to very much enjoy my time watching this movie.
Derek Cianfrance took the time to show the consequences of Avery’s act of bravery, how this low-ranked police officer becomes a hero for a whole nation and how this turns into a conflict with Avery’s inner deep guilt. This is a very original movie about paternity: a young man ready to do anything for a son he’s not raising, a policeman’s guilt mainly focused on his common point with the victim: they both have a son of the same age.
Then, both grow up and go to the same high school. AJ (Avery’s son) befriends Jason (Luke’s) son and has a very bad influence on this shy, quiet teenage boy. Both don’t know about their fathers’ common past, but continue to hang out with each other in spite of Avery’s strong command to his son to stay away from Jason. When Jason accidentally finds out about the identity of his friends’ father, they both get into a fight which leaves the poor Luke unconscious. Seeking for revenge, the psychology of the character is wonderfully depicted by the director, hence the length. As his father, not a bad person either, was “forced” by the circumstances of life to do something bad (remember that scene where he vomits in the truck after his robbery), this innocent looking teenage boy has the chance to have great parents. Old Eva Mendes struggling to raise her son is incredibly touching, especially at the court. In spite of all her efforts, we see how this young victim – he grew up without his biological father, got involved into drug possession and beaten up by the evil Jason – turns bad himself. The scene when he picks up the gun is very critical in that sense. I would like to take the occasion to stress Dane DeHaan’s amazing performance. I saw him in the trailer of Metallica: Through the Never today and I am glad he plays in this other movie I’d like to see!
All about fathers and sons
In conclusion, I loved this movie for its grace, its soundtrack (very important point to me, look, Pulp Fiction…) and its original depiction of complex relationship between fathers and sons, especially of the legacy (of sins). After all, AJ harms Jason as Avery harmed/killed Luke. After all, the close-up on AJ applauding after his father’s speech is one of the most meaningful scenes of the movie. It shows how proud he is of his father, with the hope of a legacy of goodness (instead of sins). After all, the film ends up on the legacy of Luke’s main skill (to be continued!) and wish to drive his own life alone through the purchase of a motorbike…