Cinema Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

 

 

DIR Derek Cianfrance WRI: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder PRO: Lynette Howell, Sidney Kimmel, Katie McNeill, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof  • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Jim Helton, Ron Patane • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta

 

Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 breakthrough feature Blue Valentine gave him instant recognition as a mercilessly honest student of human failings, tracing the blossoming of love between a young couple intercut with the furious demise of their relationship some years later.

Reuniting with Blue Valentine star Ryan Gosling, Cianfrance’s follow-up The Place Beyond the Pines similarly juxtaposes two contrasting stories, although this time they are loosely connected tales about two men, fathers, under pressure to do the right thing. In the style of La double vie de Véronique or Chungking Express, the two tales play out sequentially, and the ties that bind them are not entirely clear from the get-go.

Set in the small city of Schenectady, New York (Schenectady translates loosely as ‘beyond the pines’ from the native Mohawk), we are first introduced to daredevil fairground stuntman Luke Glanton (Gosling), mechanically twitching a flickknife in his campervan before going on stage. In a superbly choreographed single take, Hunger and Shame D.P. Sean Bobbitt’s camera follows Glanton across the fairground, to his motorbike and, with a clever off-camera actor switcheroo, into a steel cage where he performs his gravity-defying entertainment.

Learning he has an infant son in the city from a previous passing-through, Glanton opts to abandon his travelling act and stay in town, mindful of the effect not having a father had on him. His baby-mama Romina (Eva Mendes) is not entirely happy with the arrangement – her live-in boyfriend is furious with it – but a serious attraction between the pair lingers. Encouraged by his mechanic friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to ‘use his skillset’, Glanton turns to bank robbery, escaping through winding streets on his motorbike. With money comes increased danger of being caught and a desire to play a greater role in his son’s life, but Glanton is not one to give up easily when he’s on to a good thing.

Equally stuck to his own guns is honest cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), whose story becomes the sole focus of the film in the second act. Also a father to a young son, Avery is the natural foil to Glanton – his father (Harris Yulin), a district attorney, supports him; his wife (Rose Byrne), shows her love and concern. Yet, by pursuing corrupt colleagues within his own department, Avery shows the same determination to make the world a better place for his son as Glanton did.

These two stories are meticulously filmed and paced by Cianfrance, who co-wrote with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder. Like the best dual-story films the echoes of the first story in the second make both stories all the stronger. Glanton’s tale allows Bobbitt’s camerawork to ignite the screen. Avery’s story provides some superb character development and bubbling tension.

Casting two of the most desirable male movie stars in the business right now is a stroke of genius that pays off superbly. Gosling channels the pain of his Blue Valentine character and pours it into the empty vessel of his Drive persona, creating an aching but deep-down kindly criminal, whose face constantly fights back the emotions it wants to betray. Cooper expresses more of the frustration and isolation he performed so strongly in Silver Linings Playbook, playing a character who is willing to sacrifice his own happiness for what he believes is right. The two handsome stars reflect one another like Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Persona, almost merging in the audience’s mind, as Gosling’s central role transfers to Cooper.

It is as the second story comes to a close that everything goes terribly wrong. Not content with a superb compare-and-contrast, Cianfrance’s film begins an epilogue, set 15 years after the earlier sequences, to tie up the loose ends that were better left undone. What might have been covered in five minutes is dragged out to a mind-numbing 45, as the epilogue mutates into a yawn-inducing third act.

We follow the teenage sons of Glanton and Avery (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen respectively) as they interact and suffer for the sins of their fathers. Story, acting and style go out the window in favour of this hackneyed, utterly predictable conclusion that simply has no need to exist, except to hammer home a metaphor already beautifully and understatedly handled in the first two acts. It is a painful experience to endure; not only is it mind-numbingly boring, but watching a modern masterpiece of cinema dissolve into a mediocre work before your very eyes is like seeing an art gallery on fire and knowing there is nothing you can do. Like Avery seeing his son grow up and becoming a drug-abusing disappointment, Cianfrance seems to sit back and let this bastardisation of his own work continue, and continue, and continue.

Still, even the disastrous conclusion is not enough to completely derail this stunningly made film, even if it does leave a bitter aftertaste. Eva Mendes gives a superb supporting performance as a woman bitterly torn between what she wants and what she needs, and traumatised when that decision is made for her. Ben Mendelsohn, now typecast as the shifty working class goon, plays strong support, as does his Killing Them Softly co-star Ray Liotta as a vengeful crooked cop. Dane DeHaan is passable as the younger Glanton, but Emery Cohen is a mumbling drain of energy in every scene he appears.

One thing the final act cannot sully is the sublime score by Michael Patton, with its echoing keyboard effects conjuring a romantic melancholy that electrifies many of the film’s key scenes. It is further evidence of Cianfrance being able to surround himself with talented artists at the top of their game, and points towards even better things ahead for the director.

But there’s no denying here that Cianfrance has scuttled his own ship, and a film that might have been one of the year’s finest is now one that will likely be forgotten by many. It’s a lesson in self-indulgent storytelling, and a tragedy for great drama and filmmaking. Enjoy what you can in it; for all its shooting itself in the foot, there is much beauty here.

David Neary

15A (see IFCO website for details)

140mins
The Place Beyond the Pines is released on 12th April 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Killing Them Softly

DIR/WRI: Andrew Dominik   PRO: Dede Gardner, Anthony
Katagas, Brad Pitt, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz  DOP: Greig
Fraser • ED: Brian A. Kates, John Paul Horstmann • DES: Patricia Norris 
Cast: Brad Pitt, Scott McNairy, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard
Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn

Although only on his third feature film in 12 years, Australian
writer/director Andrew Dominik has garnered quite a reputation for
himself. Having debuted with his homegrown black comedy Chopper in
2000 (which launched the film career of then TV comedian Eric Bana)
about Australia’s most notorious criminal, Mark ‘Chopper’ Reed,
Dominik took an extended break from filmmaking before returning with
the masterful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert
Ford in 2007.

Originally set to be released in 2006, Dominik’s take on the famed
American outlaw was delayed due to an on-going battle with Warner
Bros. to gain control of the final cut of the film (the studio were
angling towards a more action-driven picture, while Dominik was aiming
for a meditative feel), The Assassination of Jesse James… was
critically lauded, and would be recognised with two Academy Award
nominations for Casey Affleck and cinematographer Roger Deakins.

With such a prolific double whammy on his back catalogue, anticipation
was always going to be high for his next release, and with Jesse James
star Brad Pitt once again on leading man duties, Killing Them Softly
has all the appearance of a sure thing.

Dominic updates George V. Higgins’ Boston-set 1970s novel Cogan’s
Trade (the film’s original title) to modern-day New Orleans, where
Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, a professional enforcer, is brought in to
investigate a robbery of mobster Ray Liotta’s high-stakes poker game
by a pair of small-time crooks, played by Monsters’ Scoot McNairy and
Ben Mendelsohn (recently seen as the snivelling John Daggett in The
Dark Knight Rises).

Having previously organised the theft of his own game, people suspect
that Liotta may be the one behind it again, but Cogan suspects
otherwise, and he enlists the help of ‘New York’ Mickey to get to the
bottom of it.

Having set the bar so high with his extraordinary sophomore effort, it
is inevitable that his take on a straightforward crime thriller
wouldn’t have the same impact. Yet, though the use of archival footage
of George W. Bush and Barack Obama doesn’t really take effect until
the final moments, Killing Them Softly is nevertheless a slick and
stylish (and often darkly humorous) film, that will find favour with
fans of the genre, as well as Dominik and Pitt devotees.

Though he is off-screen for much of the opening-third of the film,
Pitt is on terrific form as Cogan, bringing the same kind of
effortless cool to the role that we have seen from the Oklahoma man in
films like Ocean’s Eleven, Inglourious Basterds, Fight Club and last
year’s Moneyball.

The supporting performances are also on the money, with the reliable
Richard Jenkins building up a good rapport with Pitt as his secretive
contact with an anonymous benefactor, McNairy and Mendelsohn are
perfectly cast as the hapless criminals at the centre of the piece,
and it is interesting to see a Sopranos reunion of sorts with
Gandolfini, Vincent Curatola and Max Casella cropping up alongside
Liotta, a gangster film veteran.

At 97 minutes, Killing Them Softly is somewhat slight (and like Jesse
James its running time was originally much longer), but it still comes
with a high recommendation, and the Dominik/Pitt partnership is one
that both parties should be eager to expand upon in the future.

Daire Walsh

18 (see IFCO for details)
97mins

Killing Them Softly is released 21st September 2012

Killing Them Softly – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Wanderlust

Aniston in Rom Com shock

DIR: David Wain • WRI: David Wain, Ken Marino • PRO: Judd Apatow, Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, David Wain • DOP: Michael Bonvillain • ED: David Moritz, Robert Nassau • DES: Aaron Osborne • Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Malin Akerman, Ray Liotta

David Wain’s latest offering, Wanderlust stars two of comedy’s current sweethearts, Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and so should have the potential of being the first real comedy hit of the year. Wain’s last feature Role Models also starred Rudd as an uptight male lead to Seann William Scott’s moron, but here Rudd is allowed the opportunity to take the helm of male lead alone, and alongside old friend Jennifer Aniston, offers us an effortlessly charming, but ultimately predictable comedy caper.

Rudd plays George to Aniston’s Linda, a tightly-wound Manhattan couple for whom the term ‘stressed-out’ is an understatement. When George finds himself out of a job, their only option appears to be moving in with George’s atrocious brother in Atlanta. The idea of the uptight Manhattan couple being forced out of their comfort zones and learning something along the way is one that has been long propagated on screen, but Wanderlust offers something slightly different. On their way, the couple somehow stumble upon Elysium, an apparently idyllic community peppered with characters that see the world in a different way to George and Linda. From money to clothing, nothing is essential in Elysium, and whilst our protagonists are refreshed by this change in priorities, it may ultimately cause them more emotional harm than good – as is generally the case when nudity and the elderly get together.

Wanderlust has all of the ingredients for greatness, but is either lacking some secret ingredient, or the addition of too much nudity has spoiled the broth. As we learned with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, an unexpected penis shot is always good for a giggle, but here the writers have gotten somewhat lazy and decided to rely heavily on the humour of the elderly male form, to which the audience has already become numb. Wanderlust has the potential to be a massive hit but unfortunately isn’t always as funny as it should be.

The writing is often awkward and a little forced, but, having known each other since the good old days of Friends, Rudd and Aniston have so much on-screen chemistry that they could dictate the Golden Pages to each other, and still manage to hold their audience captivated. Wanderlust is the perfect movie for a first date, charming, enjoyable, but also effortless as the twists and turns are usually noticed long before they happen, meaning that it asks nothing but giggles from its audience. Although the script isn’t exactly top-notch, it is refreshing to see that it doesn’t dissolve into a hideous slapstick mess as is often the case with recent comedy.

The entire film has a sense of looseness, freedom and the idea that ‘anything goes’ which, although it is entirely in keeping with the situation in which our protagonists find themselves, doesn’t quite fit with the film format, and leaves the audience slightly confused, and waiting patiently for the next charming moment between Rudd and Aniston. It is the actors and not the story that makes Wanderlust worth a viewing, with this many funny people throwing their hats into the ring, it’s impossible not to leave the cinema feeling somewhat charmed and satisfied, despite the fact that you’ve already forgotten the story. All in all, we’re just glad that it doesn’t star Adam Sandler.

Wanderlust offers some moments of intelligent comedy, but the intervention of a senior citizen full-frontal shot ultimately ensures its fate resting among the charming yet silly comedies that have gone before. The good news for our protagonists though is that it is the charm of Rudd and Aniston alone that carries this movie and, given the right script, the duo has the potential to be this generation’s king and queen of Rom Com.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Wanderlust is released on 2nd March 2012

Wanderlust  – Official Website

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