The Place Beyond the Pines

12 May

SPOILER WARNING: my apologies, but what I want to say about this film requires a spoiler, so if you’re going to see it, do so before reading, though I really wouldn’t bother.

place beyond the pinesI’m not quite sure what to make of The Place Beyond the Pines. It’s not a bad film, really, but I did come to the end and wonder what it was I’d just watched, and why. I don’t insist that every story needs to have a point, a story can certainly be just a story, but I can’t help thinking that all the writer really wanted was that elusive excuse to kill a protagonist immediately after the exposition (the psychosis of writers’ innate desire to kill protagonists, though, is a subject for another post).

Said protagonist is, in this instance, Luke Glanton, a circus stunt motorbike rider played rather passively by Ryan Gosling, who discovers that the woman he had a fling with on his previous visit to an upstate New York backwater has given birth to his son. Quitting his job, he turns to robbing banks, which ultimately leads to his demise, and the rather flaccid cop who shoots him in the line of duty becomes the new protagonist. I couldn’t help but chuckle aloud when an inter title announced we were moving forward fifteen years and a pair of protagonists (the sons of the first two) emerged as a duo.

I’m not sure what I think, partly because this film does well what I think all stories need. It is driven by its plot, which is a tick, though the convolutions in that plot are are not really justified by what they return to the viewer who carefully follows them. It boasts some well developed and nicely performed characters, which is a tick, though none of the characters are very likeable, nor do they elicit enough empathy for me to care what becomes of them. The cinematography is beautiful and moody, which is a tick, but these lovely images don’t quite pull the disparate elements of the plot and characters together the way they should. And it has a subtle soundtrack that supports the mood, but doesn’t really take it anywhere new (not really a tick at all).

Really, this is a trilogy of short films with a contiguous plot. They might not be separable, as they share a single exposition, but they are three very distinct stories. I can’t be too harsh on the film because all three are interesting, but I’m not sure that they’re quite interesting enough for two and a half hours of slow-moving American angst.

And so what I’m left with is a film that I think I like, but I’m not quite ready to give it a tick. I guess what I fear most, though, is that I may write a little like this. My characters can be held aloof from their viewers and my plots aren’t always worthy of the effort required to follow them. I hope, therefore, that a decent number of people like The Place Beyond the Pines more than I do.


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7 responses to “The Place Beyond the Pines

  1. Amanda Caldwell

    Monday, 13 May 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I know what you mean, although I think I liked this film a bit more than you, possibly because of the performances. I do think it makes a strong comment on intergenerational responsibility, though. And I liked that, particularly in relation to the situation in Australia regarding treatment of indigenous people, for example. Kate Grenville’s novel, Sarah Thornhill. Here’s my review of the film,

    • chilver

      Monday, 13 May 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Oh, is that what they were trying to say?
      I guess that makes sense then… though I think I could have written a script to do that in 90 minutes rather than 140!

  2. Pierce Nahigyan

    Tuesday, 14 May 2013 at 2:12 am

    Hey, Trevar- Thanks for the shout out. I can certainly see your point here, and while I would agree that the characters are aloof, I do not agree that they are unlikeable. What I found so refreshing about this film was that much of the communication between characters is realistic, insofar as they communicate based on who they are and not what the movie demands. Case in point, Luke Glanton is not the kind of guy who can articulate his problems. It is fitting that his last act is to make a phone call. Avery Cross, rather than being the hero we want him to be, ends up doing exactly what his father suggests and parlays his heroism into a law career. While their acts may not be likeable, why they do what they do is always very clear, and because of that, this film is unique for me. Then again, I am American, and we love rolling in our angst like a dog loves rolling in turds.

    • chilver

      Tuesday, 14 May 2013 at 9:04 am

      Aye Pierce, we Aussies are a little less inclined to feel our emotions (generally we prefer to express our emotions physically towards asylum seekers in offshore processing camps), but enough mutual self-deprecation!
      I don’t quite mean that these characters are entirely unlikeable, more than I don’t feel any empathy towards them. Tragic as Glanton’s death may be, it is of little consequence; he’d hardly have made much of himself or of his son. Cross, likewise, may have contributed something worthwhile in his days, but nothing terribly earth-shattering, so whether he had been killed by Jason or not, I wouldn’t really care.
      And so, maybe it’s just my Australian pragmatism, but there’s just too much of an attempt to emotionalise what is quite inconsequential, and despite an interesting plot and extremely well-developed characters, I’m still shurgging my shoulders at the end and wondering why I didn’t have any popcorn.

  3. Pierce Nahigyan

    Tuesday, 14 May 2013 at 12:31 pm

    It’s definitely not a popcorn muncher, but I believe that rather than emotionalizing, Pines tries to represent people as they are, and that is not always a sympathetic picture. The final scene is the restarting of the cycle, a cycle that doesn’t have something worthwhile at the end of its road but that continues regardless. In the vast scheme of things all of the actions of the characters are inconsequential, and yet there is that felt quality to what we witness onscreen and I think that is where the picture’s value resides.

    • chilver

      Tuesday, 14 May 2013 at 3:44 pm

      I don’t disagree at all really, and there is certainly value in this film, but I’d rather a film left me thinking about its themes, rather than popcorn! I don’t dislike the film at all, but while I agree with both yourself and Amanda who engaged more fully, I just want something to like, and I didn’t quite get that. And as a writer, I really do fear that my work is more similar to this than I’d like it to be.


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