The Place Beyond the Pines


Ryan Gosling wonders why he's always cast as a great driver.

Ryan Gosling wonders why he’s always cast as a great driver.

(2012) Drama (Focus) Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn, Harris Yulin, Bruce Greenwood, Olga Merediz, Robert Clohessy, Kayla Smalls, Jennifer Sober, Luca Pierucci, Gabe Fazio, Brian Smyj, Greta Seacat, Ephraim Benton, Vanessa Thorpe, Sabrina Lott. Directed by Derek Cianfrance   

As the saying goes, the sins of the father are visited upon the sons. This is, I suppose, a way of tying together the behaviors of a son that ape those of his father, often to the detriment of the son.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a story told in three parts. The first concerns Luke Glanton (Gosling), a skilled motorcycle stunt driver who as part of a travelling carnival moves from town to town. The buff, bleach blonde Glanton doesn’t seem to have a problem finding women to sleep in much as a sailor has a girl in every port. In Schenectady, that girl is Romina (Mendes), a waitress who doesn’t appear to have much more to look forward to than sore feet and occasional liaisons with men she probably shouldn’t have them with. A baby results from this union and Luke impulsively decides to quit the wandering life to settle down and help raise the baby.

However, Romina has moved on somewhat since her fling with Luke and has found a steady boyfriend in Kofi (Ali),  who is willing to help raise baby Jason as his own. Romina though has a soft spot for her bad boy who wants to do the right thing. Unfortunately Luke has fallen in with Robin (Mendelsohn), a small-time criminal who runs an auto body shop. It is he who puts the idea in Luke’s head that the easiest way to support his kid properly is to rob banks. Luke, barely able to make ends meet on his own, slowly finds it to be a good idea. Thing like this, however, rarely remain good for long.

The second part of the story belongs to Avery Cross (Cooper), a cop whose father (Yulin) – a judge and a local power broker – doesn’t approve of his son’s career choice and is perfectly willing to express his opinions. Avery and his wife Jennifer (Byrne) are busy raising a one-year-old son on their own when Avery is shot on the job. He is at home rehabilitating but is anxious to get back to work. Jennifer is torn – she wants space at home to raise her kid, but is terrified Avery’s next encounter with violence won’t end so fortunately.

Avery gets wind of some corrupt cops, led by Detective Deluca (Liotta), Avery’s partner and friend Scott (Fazio) and Doc (Pierucci). At first Avery kind of lets things go but when he realizes that with every act of compromise he’s getting in deeper with these guys, he decides to blow the whistle. This won’t be easy particularly since he doesn’t know how high the corruption goes. Is Chief Wierzbowsky (Clohessy) clean? Can he trust District Attorney Killcullen (Greenwood)?

The final part of the story takes place 15 years afterwards as Avery’s troubled son AJ (Cohen) moves from a more urban school to Schenectady where his father grew up. Avery, whose ambitions as a cop have blossomed into a run for State Attorney General , doesn’t really have time for his rap-spewing drug-addled boy. At the new school he meets Jason (DeHaan), a kind of quiet smart kid who hits it off with AJ based on both boys love of getting high.

AJ is definitely trouble but Jason isn’t exactly turning down time with the boisterous and braggadocios boy. However, he will discover that AJ’s dad and his own have a connection, one which binds the two boys together in a dark and serious way. As Jason investigates that connection, the lives of the two boys and everyone around them will undergo a profound change.

Cianfrance, who helmed the critically acclaimed Blue Valentine which in many ways has some of the same attributes as this – great intensity, top notch acting, a storyline which doesn’t shrink from real life issues and ultimately not always easy to watch. Cianfrance is highly skilled at his craft and is most certainly a talent to keep an eye out for; this is a movie that shows a great deal of confidence from the opening extended tracking shot that follows Luke through the carnival to the final shot of Jason riding away from Schenectady, seemingly on the same road as his father with the same inevitable consequences. Yes, it is a shot of a young man embracing his freedom but there are troubled undertones – to my mind it’s brilliant.

Gosling and Cooper shine here. Both Oscar-nominated actors, I truly believe that over the next 20 years these are both going to be regular honorees at awards shows (including the Oscars) and Cooper in particular is likely to be a force to be reckoned with at the box office. Gosling seems less interested in that sort of thing, preferring to take roles that challenge him but who knows; maybe somewhere down the line he gets a plum franchise to make his own.

The two actors share but one scene and that for only moments, which further cements Cianfrance as a director unafraid to take chances. In the third act, Cooper is relegated to essentially a supporting role while Cohen and DeHaan take center stage. DeHaan has enormous potential with some big roles in his immediate future (he’ll be Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 next summer)  and here he shows that he has the kind of searing presence that can mesmerize audiences.

What doesn’t work here are a couple of things. First, the damn shaky cam. I get that directors like to create a kind of kinetic cinematography that brings the audience into the film, creating additional dramatic tension but let me send a note to every director out there – it doesn’t work. What it really does is quite the opposite – I’ve watched people get motion sickness at films with the kind of hand held shenanigans you find here and when an audience is looking  away from the screen because the images are making their stomachs do flip flops, there’s a director who has a problem.

The character of AJ was a bit too trying for me as well. I have no doubt that there are a lot of kids out there who fit this bill – spoiled, hedonistic, lost souls whose only goal is to escape the lives that they have, which when they come from middle class or even upper class families can strain one’s sympathies. However the character was all wrong for this situation; when Jason has his confrontation with AJ the audience begins to root for some serious damage to be done to AJ and that doesn’t serve the film well. The story deserves better than that; if AJ had at least a few redeeming characteristics it would add a great deal more power to the story. As it is, the audience’s rooting interest becomes all too easy. While the story really is about the changes that come to Jason, it adds a little more something to the film if AJ also transforms and you don’t get the sense that he does, despite the twinkle in his eye near the end of the film.

This is a movie I respected more than liked. The story felt very real, and the economic pressures on both Luke and Avery that drive some of their moral decisions are those felt by millions of families each and every day. While I would be a little surprised if either Gosling, Cooper or DeHaan received awards season recognition – not that they don’t deserve it but more because of when the movie came out and how little publicity it’s received – I have to say that this is a movie that will push you into looking around you more than entertaining you. The late Gene Siskel made it plain that slice of life movies were among his favorites and mine too as well. However, some slices are more bitter than others.

REASONS TO GO: Really tremendous acting, particularly from Gosling and Cooper. An interesting story.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much shaky cam. You just want to punch AJ in the face.

FAMILY VALUES:  Swearing throughout, a bit of violence, some teen drug use and drinking and a couple of sexual references..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the movie was filmed in and around Schenectady, NY whose name translates from the Mohawk for “beyond the pine plains.” Also, the banks seen being robbed here are all real working banks in the Schenectady area.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100; all in all the reviews are pretty good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Conviction

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Broken

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Potiche


Potiche

Judith Godreche is miffed that Catherine Deneuve and Karin Viard are so amused at her mannequin imitation.

(2010) Comedy (Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche, Jeremie Renier, Evelyne Dandry, Bruno Lochet, Elodie Freget, Gautier About, Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine, Noam Charlier. Directed by Francois Ozon

Through the ages and across the continents women have had to put up with a second class status in nearly every culture. How far have we come in righting that wrong?

Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is the heiress to a successful umbrella factory in France. Her husband Robert (Luchini) is in charge of the factory and his autocratic tendencies have led his workers to a strike, egged on by the communist mayor and MP Maurice Babin (Depardieu) with whom Suzanne had a brief and torrid affair shortly after she was married.

She calls in a favor with Babin when angry workers take Robert hostage. He is not grateful in the least when he is released to the bosom of his family – the artistic son Laurent (Renier) who resembles a young Michael York and has been dismissed by his father as a non-entity, and Joelle (Godreche) who beneath her Farrah haircut hides a fear that she and her husband will divorce – and an all-consuming need to win her father’s approval, although again she is dismissed as just a girl.

When Robert suffers a heart attack, Suzanne is forced to take over the factory and resume negotiations with the workers. Not only does she give in to the demands which are remarkably fair, but she actually builds the business, expanding into new markets and updating the look of the umbrellas to add artistic flair and color. However, when Robert returns from his convalescence, he means to have control of his factory back (which is only his because he married the boss’s daughter) and doesn’t care what he does to get it back.

This is a light and frothy comedy, set in 1977 with all the camp and kitsch that it implies. Ozon has had a career that has spanned all sorts of movies, from comedies to suspense movies and dramas. Here, he affects a light, deft touch, basing this on a stage play that was written in that era. While he maintains the ‘70s setting, he has also updated the play somewhat to reference the social and political sensibilities of modern France.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has two of the giants of French cinema in his cast. Deneuve, in her late 60s, is still ridiculously beautiful and elegant. She plays the long-suffering Suzanne as a bit on the timid side to begin, doting on her children, supporting her husband and making a home. As she becomes more confident in herself, it is fun to watch her blossom and come into herself, a lovely butterfly.

Depardieu is an amazing actor who while no longer the lean leading man he was 20 years ago, still impresses. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and while he is somewhat cowed by Suzanne, he nonetheless stands up to her when she breaks his heart.

Viard, one of France’s most popular actresses, takes on a lesser role than she is usually used to but considering whom she’s supporting I imagine it wasn’t hard to convince her to do so – if she didn’t volunteer to begin with. She plays Robert’s put upon secretary who has also been the object of his philandering attention. She’s efficient and competent but like most of the women in the movie, disregarded.

The setting is note-perfect, from the scene where Depardieu and Deneuve do the Hustle at a nightclub to the bright colors and fonts of the graphics in the titles. The comedy is light and light-hearted and while there’s an underlying message of gender equality, it never gets in the way of a good time. Potiche isn’t the kind of movie that is going to be a game-changer; it has opened several film festivals here in the United States which is a bit mystifying, but it is still satisfying entertaining and way more funny than most of the comedies Hollywood will release this year.

REASONS TO GO: Any chance at seeing Deneuve and Depardieu (here in their 8th pairing) is worth taking. Reasonably funny and note-perfect recreation of the 70s.

REASONS TO STAY: Fluffy and disposable at best.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality but nothing overt. Lots of smoking though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In French, “potiche” is a decorative vase but it is also a slang term for a trophy wife.

HOME OR THEATER: While this will probably get a decent-sized release, chances are you have a better shot at seeing it at home which is just fine.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Holy Wars