The Place Beyond the Pines Spoiler Review
by Mike Holtz, WeWatchedAMovie
Directed By: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Drive), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Eva Mendez (We Own the Night), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises), Mahershala Ali (Predators) and Emory Cohen (Afterschool)
***This is a SPOILER review. So I wouldn’t read on unless you have seen the movie or want to know all of it’s dirty secrets before seeing it, which I don’t recommend!
The Place Beyond the Pines is a dark place indeed. If the film were a physical location, I imagine it would be that creepy spot back in the woods where you just know bodies are buried. (Perhaps next to a Mystic River?…get it? Sorry.) Ryan Gosling and Derek Cianfrance team up for the second time after their collaboration in the fantastic film Blue Valentine; another dark drama about bad decisions and broken families. This time with less romance and more guns. It’s what you would get if you meshed Blue Valentine with Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and added a dash of Copland. (Hard to go wrong there…)
Gosling plays tattoo laden, ever brooding and mysterious Luke. Every second he is on screen is filled with anticipation because this guy is obviously crazy. Anything could happen. It could be the over-sized, ripped white t-shirt and the tattoo of a knife under the eye look that he’s rocking. Or it could be the fact that he is so expertly acted by Gosling you can see the fire of a thousand suns brimming beneath the surface every time he speaks, even when he speaks softly. This character is polarizing and right up there with some of the great characters Gosling has brought us in the past. He scares me….. yet I am rooting for him and I’m not even sure I’m supposed to be.
When Pines begins, Luke shows up in a small town with his traveling carnival as a semi-famous motorcycle stunt rider. The last time he was in town he hooked up with Romina (Mendes) and when he tries seeing her again he finds out she has a baby and that this baby is his baby. Luke decides to quit the carnival and stick around to take care of Romina and his new found child even though they are living in Marina’s boyfriends house (Who clearly doesn’t like the idea). Luke befriends Robin (Mendelsohn) who looks like the exact same grungy character he played in Killing Them Softly only this time his character is a likeable, lonely guy who really puts himself out there to help Luke. He gives him a job in his garage (albeit minimum wage) and gives him a place to stay (albeit a dilapidated trailer).
When Luke needs more money to take care of his son and swoon Romina into being with him, Robin brings up the idea of using Luke’s motorcycle skills to rob banks. Feeling like he has no other choice Luke agrees and what ensues are some of the most amazingly shot and heart pounding bank robberies ever. Luke bursts into these banks like a bull in a china shop and seems to enjoy it a little too much. These scenes are so intense it actually feels your’e robbing the bank. It’s an experience to say the least and it’s these moments where Pines is at it’s best. Luke goes back to Rominas house with a smile on his face and a lot of money. He’s setting up the crib he bought for their child when Rominas boyfriend Kofi (Ali) arrives home and tells Luke to leave and take his stuff with him. So Luke does what you expect him to do and nails Kofi in the face with the allen wrench he was using to set up the crib. This is another scene that will have you captivated waiting for Luke to finally lose it; he doesn’t disappoint.
After the assault on Kofi’s face, Robin bails Luke out but refuses to continue to help him rob banks because it’s apparent Luke is losing his shit. After an uncomfortable scene involving Luke putting a gun in Robin’s mouth after he finds his bike trashed, Luke loses all composure and robs another bank by himself and ends up in a thrilling chase with new cop Avery (Cooper). Luke locks himself inside the top bedroom in a house he breaks into while running from Avery. When Avery busts through the door Luke is sitting in a window holding a phone and his gun. Avery fires as soon as he enters the room and as Luke is falling out of the window, he fires and hits Avery in the leg. This becomes a bit of a grey area as Avery was panicked and fired as soon as he saw Luke, taking him by surprise, but Luke was holding his gun at the time. The camera pans over and my jaw hits the floor as we see Luke’s dead body sprawled out on the concrete below.
Wait….. Ryan Gosling’s character is dead an hour into the movie!??! This is the big shocker in Pines and what compelled me to write a spoiler review. It’s hard to even talk about the film without giving this away and frankly the first hour with Gosling is by far the best. So here I stand at a cross roads. While it’s gutsy and surprising to kill off your main character an hour into the film; it’s also a damn shame to lose such an amazing and controversial character. We could have gone through so much more with Luke and to be honest, Pines never quite recovers the same intensity it held when Gosling was on screen.
Still in shock we move into the next segment of Pines. Avery has a hard time accepting that he killed a man with an infant son, the same age as his own son. Fellow Police Officers, led by Deluca (Liotta), make things worse by taking Avery and illegally raiding Rominas house and stealing the money Luke had left for his son. Avery, having an attack of conscience, moves against the Department in Serpico like fashion trying to do the right thing and turn the crooked cops in (as this clearly isn’t the first or worst thing these cops have done). After maneuvering through a long line of corrupt cops he ends up taking on the whole force and forcing himself into an Assistant Attorney Generals position while doing so. Maybe it’s the shock of losing Gosling so early into the film but it really seems like Pines loses a lot of momentum in this second act. Going from an extremely original study of Luke’s epic character to a pretty much by the book cop corruption story really slows things down and takes some bite out of the film. Although Cooper is fantastic here, his character just doesn’t hold the same excess of ferocious originality that Luke had.
The third segment of Pines ties everything together in a giant screwed up generational family bow. Lukes’ son Jason (Dehaan) and Averys’ son (Cohen) end up befriending each other in High School before they know their fathers history together. They are both messed up kids in their own way. Jason from not knowing his father and AJ from his father never having much to do with him. We assume this is because earlier in the film he told a Psychiatrist he was having a hard time looking at his son after killing the father of a son the same age. Couple that with a divorce and all of Avery’s attention being taken by his desire to climb to Political ladder and his son has turned out to be a drug addict with a lot of anger issues.
Dehaan is amazing as Jason and is surprisingly a close second to Gosling as my favorite actor in the film. You can look at him and tell he’s Luke’s son, you can see the same fire boiling right under the surface as you did in Luke. Much like Luke he’s mysterious and unpredictable. Dehaan has truly solidified himself as an up and coming powerhouse actor in Pines. AJ’s character is more straight forward. On the surface he is nothing like his dad. His issues seem more like the phase of a thuggish teenager than anything truly haunting which is fine considering this is what the Director seemed to going for. But it’s clear neither of their lives are a picnic and are clear results of their fathers choices.
Despite the twists, turns and well planned story telling that unfold in the films third act, it’s not one without problems. When everything comes to fruition and Jason finds out that AJs dad is his fathers killer his reaction is a lot more predictable and underwhelming than the rest of the film before it. For a film so gutsy and surprising for most of it’s running time, it seemed to almost run out of time to have the truly compelling ending we may have expected. Jason gets a gun and heads to AJs house, knocks him unconscious (after originally leading us to believe he shot him) and takes Avery hostage into the woods where Averys tears over what he thought was the loss of his son prompt Jason to just rob him and leave him in the woods.
We then see scenes that support the theory AJ got himself straightened out as he is by his fathers side during his campaign. Jasons story does with a nice ode to his father as he uses the money he stole from Avery to buy a motorcycle and heads off into the sunset (or darkness depending on how you want to look at it, because it seems as though he’s hellbent on living the moto-bandit life his father led before him)
Pines is an impressively told story and how it unfolds from family to family, generation to generation is no doubt a cinematic achievement. It’s second act slows and waters things down a bit too much and losing its most intriguing character an hour in takes some bite out of an incredible film. The moment was so monumental on the lives of everyone else that it was almost as if the spirit of Luke’s dark and entrancing character never left. Especially in the way his persona and energy were embodied in a great performance by Dehaan.
With a running time of two hours and twenty minutes it felt as though Pines still didn’t have the time or maybe even the pacing savvy to tell this story perfectly. Mainly it would have been nice to steal some time from the second act and the police corruption scandal and use it instead to flesh out Jason’s character a bit more. However the direction of the first act of the film, the anything goes moments that tell Lukes story, the jarring and exciting realism of the bank robbery/chase scenes and the way the film comes full circle at the start of it’s third act…….Pines has made it’s mark in my movie memory forever. There are few films in the world with it’s straight forward ambition. It’s an art house film that dares to be transparent and show it’s cards with a refreshing and straight forward earnestness most films like it tend to cop out on.