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If you don’t recognize the name you might remember Cianfrance for taking your heart and mashing in into a bloody mush with his hard, yet beautiful mallet, ‘Blue Valentine’. This time he’s back in the heart-break business, delivering a fast, stylish story about the importance of those definitive cluster-bomb decisions that impact everyone around you. Another thing, which hasn’t changed, is the fact that he’s still taking us apart with realism.
‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ gives us an environment that we can recognise, in as much as it permits us, by supplying the faultless writing and performances we need, to let go of whosoever we were before we entered the cinema. It might be as far from our own experiences as, say, ‘The Lord of the Rings’, yet because it speaks so well and makes us feel something, the magic is there. It’s not necessarily pretty, but it’s there. And I promise you, if you allow yourself to enter this high-speed, hard-hitting world, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
What made this film so memorable, for me, was the seamless sequences that mingled both pace and mood, often attaching us to a character’s movements in a way that provided a more vicarious experience. The camerawork is subtle, inclusive and always interesting. We’re given time to familiarise ourselves with Schenectady, New York, which is an old Mohawk work meaning ‘beyond the pine plains’. Thereby the setting becomes a part of the story, utilising the dynamic inclusion of inescapable grey skies, old-fashioned frontier buildings and nearby forested hills, all of which help to complete the integral atmosphere of hard-earned isolation.
The film also revels in its revival of those wearied traditions of American culture, such as, in this case, the outlaw versus the law-enforcers. The cowboy lives, only now his metallic mount purrs like a well-fed tiger and bounces like a springbok.
The unique use of a dirt-bike is another thing that’s great about this film. Gosling told the director he’d always imagined robbing a bank on an agile bike and making a swift escape. The all-one-take tracking shots give us an almost POV insight into this fantasy. We can almost experience how he feels when he arrives at the bank, walks past the unsuspecting queue and suddenly splits the peace, shouting manically, before tearing away on his bike and sweeping us up the tarmac, exhilarated.
I remember Gosling from the film that every guy has been made to watch by a girl, at some point. I won’t deny that I enjoyed ‘The Notebook’, but Gosling wasn’t exactly the best thing in it. I certainly couldn’t foresee his future as this unstoppable, fatherless rebel, turned wild with ambition and an overwhelming urge to rise up out of the clinging dirt-pile of his former self.
Luckily I never planned a career in clairvoyance, since Gosling has become something entirely unexpected, to me – this powerful, hypnotic force of nature.
Upon discovering he has a son, bike-rider Luke sprays his getaway steed black and sets out to become everything his old man wasn’t. Gosling immediately embodies the wordless calm of a man in control and at one with himself. There’s no hesitation.
We head straight in with a steady introduction, following this switch-blade flicking, tattooed stuntman as he throws on his sleeveless Metallica shirt and charges up to the Globe of Death. It’s one of those grad-you-by-the-balls kind of scenes that freezes your popcorn hand and makes you sit up in your seat.
Bradley Cooper, also on unbeatable form, is faultless as the conflicted, system-barred cop, Avery Cross. Apparently director Cianfrance travelled 5 hours to see Cooper personally and discuss the role. He was adamant that Cooper, for whom the role was written, was the only one who could do Cross justice.
Cooper’s final portrayal of this tormented cop, swallowed by vagaries of despair and distanced from the force he loved so much, proves that those were 5 hours well spent. Trying to keep his head above water in a drowning precinct, Cooper balances the restraint of being paraded like a hero with another level of stuttering uncertainty, whilst he’s also cajoled by the pack-orientated menace of his fellow officers.
These stand out performances give us two twin peaks, Gosling and Cooper, who rise up from the misery of a film shrouded with existential fog. There’s also an unexpected interruption half-way through, which severs the action and essentially devolves the story, in as much as it transports us to the origins of new, younger characters, whose lives are transformed by the impact of their elders. By doing this Cianfrance cleverly intertwines several different strands of the same narrative.
The result, while it sounds stunted, actually allows us to examine the tremors caused by choices made much earlier on. Essentially it provides an overview effect, like seeing the world from afar, which is masterfully executed.