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It's been a while since I came out of a movie and I was deeply moved by its story. I had almost forgotten movies like this could still be made. Now that everything is about visual effects and the third dimension, the only thing that has suffered the most are people. Stories about people. Simply put, it's been a while since I saw a real movie. The Place Beyond the Pines is one such movie.
The film is divided into three acts, three segments if you like.
Act 1 has Ryan Gosling at its center. I don't know if you are aware of this by now, but it's perfectly fine to be straight and be in awe of a man, if that man is Ryan Gosling. (To support my claim, read James Franco's latest review of this film where he is "Burning for Gosling"). The Gos isn't about acting or sexuality but what he projects to the audience. He makes cinema alive again, in a way even the greatest actors can't. Then he does something more; he hides something from the audience. Always. In the way James Dean did half a century back. While he is doing all of this, he makes it all look incredibly cool. In the way Steve McQueen did.
Act 2 has Bradley Cooper at the center. The roles of the criminal and the virtuous are challenged. Our likability for the actor vis-a-vis the characters is questioned. One scene in this section with Ray Liotta reminded me of the opening of Goodfellas (1990) with the red back-lights of a car. It's no coincidence it happens to be one of the greatest films about the inevitable fate of gangsterism. This part of the film is the most crucial and the pivotal factor of how you will react to the film in general.
Act 3 has Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen at the center wherein the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. Sins need to be atoned or the cycle is incomplete. This segment is what takes this crime drama to epic proportions. Where the battles aren't of swords and games instead of sociopaths and guns. Star Wars is referenced (so is The Goonies) but the father-son story I was reminded me of was The Godfather (1972) due to its ambition. The decisions taken by the characters in this segment is why I love this film. [Apart from the (Omni)presence of the Gos, of course].
It could be inferred that the first act is the strongest and the others lose steam. It does not. This only seems so because we are so overwhelmed by Gosling's persona that we miss it during the rest of the film. But if you know where to look, his character is all over the film. For starters, watch the two scenes where certain characters eat ice cream.
Derek Cianfrance is an original and compelling voice. If you haven't seen his heartbreaking debut - Blue Valentine (2010), that should be the second thing you do after reading this review, first being watching this one. His films are contemporary but reflect and refine what we have received from our past. It's no coincidence that his new film happens to be exactly about this.
The film begins with a stunning tracking shot as we follow Ryan Gosling wherever he goes till he mounts his motorbike and enters a metal globe to perform a spiral stunt. The film ends with a static shot of another motorbike drifting into the distance. Where these two motorbikes go and what they imply for the generations at stake is all there is to say about this film.
We haven't been offered such an accomplished film in so long that I wouldn't be surprised if its brilliance goes underappreciated right now. We have forgotten how to watch a film like this. Take some time out, tell entertainment to wait till the next weekend and watch this film. This is epic storytelling. A magnificent film that happens to be the best thing I've seen so far this year.