The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

Release Date: March 29, 2013

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Runtime: 140 min

When one thinks of an epic, they might think Titanic, Braveheart or maybe Avatar. Even though this doesn’t have huge sinking boats, large wars or stunning visual effects; this truly deserves to be called an epic.

Derek Cianfrance (of Blue Valentine fame) brings us an small-town epic called The Place Beyond the Pines; a thought-provoking and realistic tale of generational feuds, fathers and sons, and corruption. It’s set in the small town of Schenectady, New York, that follows two families over a period of fifteen years. It’s essentially a trilogy of tales, going from chapter to chapter.

Glanton is a stunt motorcycle rider who, after finding out he has a son named Jason, begins to rob banks as a way to provide for his son and his lover, Romina (Eva Mendes). He does with the assistance of his employer, an auto repair shop owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), and his superior motorcycle riding skills. His motivation for this is easy to understand as he wants to provide his son and he sees this as the best way fit. He’s a guy who has his priorities in order, even if it implies reckless behaviour and breaking the law time and time again.

Cross’s motivations are harder to comprehend. He’s an ambitious young cop who wants to make his way up in the police force in as little time as possible, as he’s following in his father’s footsteps. The corruption of the police force itself poses enticing decisions for the young rookie.

The strong third act is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but there are a few things that can be said. It’s admirably carried by young, up and coming stars Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cohen plays a character that is an irritating kind-of Eminem-esque wannabe  but he is portrayed adequately and his character is essential to the film.

The third tale explores the idea of legacies and how one split-second decision can send incidental shockwaves through generations. It also explores fatherly influences in a beautiful way; which is a theme that is also highlighted with Glanton and Cross, where Cross has a father figure, and Glanton is the opposite. Corruption and personal gain is best explored in the middle act involving Bradley Cooper’s haunted character. Finally, the bond between fathers and sons and the lengths they’d go to in order to protect their young is very well explored. One of the most prominent themes is, though, is there are (usually) consequences for your actions, admirably said in the movie’s most memorable quote, “If you ride like lightning; you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

The epic crime drama shifts focus a lot, and since it is a trilogy of intertwining stories, it really feels like it could end at any point. In this way, it might work better as a book – but the narrative feels fresh. It’s still one of the lengthy film’s main faults, that the film feels like it’s just coming around the bend to its climax. Thankfully, the ambiguous and hopeful ending at the place beyond the pines is more than pleasing. Some of the characters’ motivations can be also hard to comprehend, but despite the movie’s faults, it’s engaging and it packs a mighty, emotional one-two punch.

The large and talented cast carries the movie extremely well. Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan (Am I the only one who thinks he’ll, at least, be an Oscar nominee someday?), Bruce Greenwood and Emory Cohen are among the cast, and they help carry the film and they make one heck of an ensemble. The tatted-up Gosling is by far the best of them all. The movie’s at its most booming and usually the most intense when he’s on-screen. He is most deserving of an Oscar nomination, and his powerful performance will remain one of the year’s most memorable. His character is as great and as mysterious as The Driver in Drive, and his performance is as good, if not better; he better not be overlooked by the Academy this time around. Even when he isn’t on-screen, his impact and legacy is felt. Other than Cooper and Gosling, DeHaan and Mendelsohn are the most notable. The score is also very memorable; with Mike Patton’s “The Snow Angel” playing in the background of some of the movie’s strongest and most emotionally sweeping scenes. Who woulda thunk one tune could be so haunting, but filled with such poignancy?

Gosling’s tale is by the far the strongest act of the three, Cooper’s sandwiched between in terms of quality, and DeHaan’s is the weakest, but saved by a fantastic ending. With an epic and beautiful drama like this, “weak” is used lightly – because it is by no means a bad act. They all just happen to pale in comparison to the act where Glanton is the focus. The intense crime drama is riddled with great performances, impressive writing, amazing emotional moments; and no matter how much the film may shift focus from story to story, all in a very lengthy flick, it all intertwines admirably in the end and Cianfrance never loses sight of his stunning and beautiful vision.

88/100

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Killing Them Softly (2012)

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Release Date: November 30, 2012

Director: Andrew Dominik

Stars: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: In America, you’re on your own

Note: I love the idea of a good mob flick. I have a large list of ones I have to check out, including ‘Goodfellas’ (cue the gasp); and in all honesty, this is my second mafia related film (I think). The first being ‘Road to Perdition’. But I loved this. Enjoy the review. 

Ah. Hitmen meet the economy; they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys, who think they’re smart, rob a mob-protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

Johnny Amato (a.k.a., Squirrel; portrayed by Vincent Curatola) is the so-called mastermind behind the heist of a mob-protected card game. He enlists the assistance of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), and the plan is seemingly golden. The host of this card game is Markie Trattman, a man who hosted another card game in the past, and he then robbed his own card game. Due to that, card games went away for a little while. Now they’re back. The local criminal bosses believe that if this one gets robbed, Markie will have to be behind it. That’s what makes these three dumb guys believe that this is a foolproof plan.

Because of all this, Jackie Cogan gets called in to restore a little order to this imperfect local economy.

The film opens with Frankie (Scoot McNairy) walking down a rundown street, and the film cuts between a politician speaking (Obama or George W., possibly) and him. The wording constantly gets off. This is both stylish and artistic, but it will get irritating to the impatient viewer. It becomes known that this film is set when George W. Bush was still leader of the free world, and America was in an economic crisis. The card game being robbed doesn’t particularly assist the local criminal economy in any way.

In that way, this is both a story of violence and despair, and a compelling and complex social commentary of 2008 America in the midst of one of the worst financial situations since the Great Depression. The concepts in Killing Them Softly are complex, but they aren’t hard to comprehend. The film suggests that America is not a place where one could easily raise their kids. It is not a community, it is a business. However, these concepts of economics and capitalism are not subtly explored. The political voice-over speeches are practically right in your face, as if they’re 3D. Though, this barely bothered me.

Jackie Cogan is an awesome character who is filled with philosophy and mystery. Though, he isn’t the only interesting character in this. There is also Frankie and Russell, who may be a little dim-witted, but they are nonetheless good characters. Russell is often really there just for comedic relief, and he is also a representation of the stupid people of America. Frankie may be sort of dumb, but he is much smarter than Russell. Both the characters are good enough to carry the film for their scenes. In fact, they practically carry the film for the first twenty minutes – with a little help from Curatola and Liotta. These actors remind us that a film can be good, even when Pitt isn’t onscreen. Also, Brad Pitt entering the screen to the sound of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” is the perfect touch.

Brad Pitt, as usual, is a booming screen presence. Put him next to Richard Jenkins’ character, he’s cool and he has a mysterious bravado. Speaking of Richard Jenkins’ character, his name is never revealed. He is just the middle man of crime who pays Cogan. Though the question of who Jenkins works for is left unanswered. That is one of the pleasant ambiguities and mysteries of the film.

Though, put Pitt next to James Gandolfini’s character of Mickey (another hit man called in by Cogan to help out with killing the twerps), he’s nothing special. Only because he’s listening to Mickey talk his ear off. Mickey’s character hardly fascinated me.  He talks too much, and he doesn’t kill enough. Don’t get me wrong, Gandolfini’s a great screen presence. I just wasn’t digging the character. So don’t you tell Gandolfini to put out a contract on my head. I don’t want to die, man. I’m just telling it how it is.

Scoot McNairy has proved to audiences that he is a solid supporting presence (Exhibit A: this; and Exhibit B: Argo) and also a good leading man presence (as shown in 2010’s Monsters). I look forward to more performances by this promising actor.

The story, the cinematography and the editing are the real highlights of the film. There are a few other vividly cool editing sequences, that leave me feeling impressed. There’s one scene where Pitt is firing a gun in the rain in a slow-motion sequence, that is stunning. It’s vividly cool, and is worth the watch simply for that. Don’t stay for just that, though. This is one of the best films of the year!

There is a whole load of killing, but not as much as it seems to promise. In that way, the advertising is sort of deceiving. That’s okay, though, the other things that it never promises make up for it. There’s a fair share of soft, but brutal, killing to satisfy all, even though the kills are far between each other. The social commentary it offers is also profound. Sometimes it gets talky, but it is never uninteresting. The film has its fair share of intensity. The soundtrack is great and the atmosphere it offers is one of the most unique of the year. The writing is great, and the actors are great. They don’t disappoint one bit. There’s enough violence, and enough politics and economics to leave both crime movie lovers and scholars with a smile on their faces by the time the end credits roll. Just don’t expect non-stop carnage, and you’ll be good.

90/100