"If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder," warns a character in 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines. But is that what happened to the film itself? Its meagre $35m takings and mostly middling-to-solid reviews suggest so. At a time when Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper’s stock has never been higher, Pines is barely ever mentioned, yet it deserves recognition as a modern classic of American cinema.
The general consensus was that the film loses something when Gosling isn’t on screen, and that the final act skids off the tracks. Watch without expectation of a bank-robbing thriller following Gosling’s stunt rider from start to finish – Drive on a bike, this ain’t – and you’ll be rewarded with a compellingly profound drama of considerable emotional resonance.
It probably didn’t help that director Derek Cianfrance’s previous movie was daring relationship drama Blue Valentine (2010), a rightly celebrated film that shares DNA with Pines, while taking a very different approach. Pines’ structure is more classic novel than crime movie, with the three distinct acts allowing the themes (most notably ‘sins of the father’) to come to maturity.
If you miss Gosling’s presence in the latter two acts, that’s the point: his absence needs to be keenly felt. For me, Cooper’s performance was drastically undervalued. Post-Silver Linings Playbook (2012), audiences are more receptive to his on-screen ability. There’s a (possibly confounding) lack of distinction between Cianfrance elicits terrific performances across the board – from Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali... As a hotbed of talent, it’s aged very well. Credit is also due to Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen for shouldering most of the film’s accumulated drama. Their shared final segment is essential.
As a piece of cinema, Pines is truly remarkable. Shot on nostalgic 35mm, and with a heart-crushingly powerful score by Mike Patton, it tells a seemingly inevitable generational story through specific formative moments, finding an immense power in its ellipses. Each time the film finishes, I find myself thinking it should be considered a stone-cold masterpiece. Or is it just me?
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