May 8, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

In Drive (2011) directed by Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Valhalla Rising), handsome Hollywood leading man and heartthrob Ryan Gosling—one of a few mainstream actors halfway worthy of his fame and fortune—played a young hero, a postmodern knight of sorts with immaculate manners and a talent for suavely driving and beating, who savagely slays a gang of psychopathic Jewish gangsters in the seemingly selfless hope of saving the life of his love interest and her mongrel mestizo son, even if he never really gets to spend his life with her or is even properly ‘rewarded’ by the lovely lady by way of her fair-skinned flesh. In the film The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)—a film with a less trusty moral compass—Gosling also plays a fellow who puts his life at risk to save his love interest and a young lad (this time his actual son, but also a racial mongrel of the mestizo sort) via monetary support, but the dilemma is she is a bitchy broad who got knocked up by him and did not even have the courtesy tell him about the boy and now she has a nice Negro boyfriend who she uses for financial support as he is a proud house owner, thus he must edge out the prestigious competition and the only way he can think do it is by becoming an outlaw bank robber of the morally dubious sort. A motorcycle stuntman in a traveling carnival by trade who quits his carny career to be near the woman that will have nothing to do with him and their infant son, Gosling ultimately decides to rob banks with his motorcycling talent to support the family he so desperately wants to keep, but ultimately runs into trouble in an uniquely unreliable trade where death, destruction, and disaster come with the territory. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, who studied under experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage of all people but seemed to learn nothing and who directed Blue Valentine (2010)—a work also starring Ryan Gosling that I found absolutely intolerable as a sort of brazenly banal emo beta-male melodrama from hipster hell—The Place Beyond the Pines is the ostensibly ‘epic’ story of sinful fathers and the metaphysical inheritance they give to their prodigal sons in a narratively ambitious yet unforgivably uneven cinematic work told in three varying acts. Following in the sub-subversive legacy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in killing off what viewers assume is the lead protagonist/anti-hero about 1/3 into the movie, The Place Beyond the Pines is certainly a film that takes ‘risks,’ at least in the context of the convention-plagued and monetary-driven industrial Hollywood studio system, but suffers from a fundamental narrative jaggedness that is quite blatant due to the fact that it is separated into three parts in what seems to be a cable television series on steroids that aspires for greatness but seems totally counterfeit and contrived when compared to the great films of the so-called American New Wave, including those by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, but especially those post-WWII European film movements like Italian Neorealism and Neuer Deutscher Film.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling)—a somewhat dirty yet semi-virtuous fellow with a somewhat muscular body covered with vulgar homemade tattoos who sports faded Metallica t-shirts with holes in them—is a motorcycle stuntman in a traveling circus and during a trip to Altamont, NY he stops by an ex-lover’s house, a Hispanic girl named Romina (Gosling’s real-life girlfriend Eva Mendes), only to learn that he is the 'baby daddy' of an infant boy named Jason, who magically looks 100% Western European despite the fact his mother looks rather swarthy as some sort of unmentioned Hispanic (her mother is an illegal alien, but it is never mentioned from where). Unfortunately, Romina is now in a serious monogamous relationship with a somewhat upstanding Negro named Kofi (Mahershala Ali), whose house she lives in and who does not like degenerate white boys coming around his house and trying to cause trouble, especially when it comes to his rather absurd and distinctly American tri-racial family. Luke decides to quit his job and move to NY to provide for his wife and son, but it is kind of hard when he can only seem to make minimum wage. While riding around on his motorbike in the woods like a deer galloping along poetically in the forest, Luke runs into a strange and goofy quasi-redneck dude named Robin Van Der Zee (Australian Jew Ben Mendelsohn) who owns a small repair shop and provides the young father a job as a mechanic, but it does not pay the bills. During a conversation about money troubles and his need to support his broken family, Robin, who claims to have successfully robbed four banks in the past, proposes robbing banks to get rich quick, which they both inevitably do as Luke is a man with a very unique special skills set as a stunt motorcyclist without a shred of fear. After a couple successful robberies, Luke gets in a fight with Kofi after dropping a crib off for his son, which results in his arrest after senselessly smashing the black brother in the face with a large wrench. After getting out of jail on bond, Luke proposes to Robin that they commit two robberies at once, but his friend tells him he is it “out” for good, stating quite prophetically, “You know something Luke, if you ride like lightning, your gonna crash like thunder,” which he inevitably does. Robin, who seems to have quasi-gay feelings for his friend, pointlessly destroys Luke’s bike in a feeble attempt to stop his friend from committing more robberies and being very potentially imprisoned or killed, but he buys another one after putting a gun in his friend’s mouth and demanding money for his destroyed bike. Unfortunately, the new motorbike he buys is not as faithful and a tire blows out during a robbery getaway. Attempting to escape on foot and eventually locking himself in the second floor of some random house he invades, Luke is ultimately killed by a rookie cop named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who shoots the outlaw stuntman, who falls to his death from a two-story window. Unfortunately, The Place Beyond the Pines fails to be any more intense than a scene about 1/3 through the movie where Ryan Gosling lies dead in a pool of blood with a perverse smile on his face.

Now focusing on small-time police officer Avery Cross, who was shot during his skirmish with Luke and is now regarded as a (false) hero of sorts for getting injured in the line of duty and killing a renegade bank robber, The Place Beyond the Pines precedes to follow the guilty conscious of a somewhat cowardly cop—a relatively small fellow with a law degree who is better at verbally bullshitting than kicking ass—and the corruption of the particular police force he works at. As a man who has a son that is about the same age as Luke’s son, Avery has a hard time looking at his kid.  Cross' wife and ex-judge father want him to quit the police force and aspire for bigger, less dangerous things, but the rookie cop seems to think he has a future among more crooked, alpha-male cops. While recuperating from his injuries, Avery is brought on a ride-a-long with three fellow cops, including the corrupt crew's nefarious leader Deluca (Ray Liotta in a typically dirty cop role), who search and illegally seize from Romina the bank robbery money Luke gave her for their son Jason's uncertain future. After feeling rather guilty for taking the money from the baby boy whose father he killed and realizing he will never go anywhere as a pussy police officer with a law degree who does not have what it takes to rule the streets, Avery—partly to further his career and ease his guilty conscious—decides to rat out his fellow cops, which enables him to secure a position as an assistant district attorney under rather dubious and even treacherous circumstances, thus proving that when it comes to his actions, whether they be seemingly morally pristine or dirtier than an urban crack whore on a Friday night, he is always looking out for #1. Flash foward fifteen years later in what is the third and final act of The Place Beyond the Pines, Avery Cross is now running for New York State Attorney General, but he is now divorced and his delinquent teenage son AJ (Emory Cohen)—a sub-literate high school senior and barbaric bourgeois wigger whose command of the English language is laughable compared to his politician father—is moving in, which ultimately stirs trouble for his father's political campaign and personal life. By rather magical happenstance, AJ, who is now attending a new school in his father's area, runs into and befriends Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) during his first day at high school. While AJ is a self-absorbed wigger druggy delinquent who wishes he was a ballsy black gangsta but comes from a typically Judaic NY background of self-absorbed narcissism and arrogance where he can act like a dumb ass without having to suffer any serious consequences, Jason is a jaded working-class introvert of the white individualistic type, or as his new friend describes him, a “loner stoner.” After buying XTC together, Jason and AJ are busted by the cops and while picking him up from the police station, Avery realizes that his son’s new friend is the son of the man he killed long ago, thus he threatens his boy never to talk to his new comrade again, which pushes the would-be-negro to hysterical tears. Meanwhile, Jason begins to do research on his father after getting his name from his stepdad Kofi and learns about his father and his grizzly outlaw death. When Jason, who is high on Oxycontin (which he stole from a pharmacy) and alcohol, eventually realizes that AJ is the son of the man who killed the father he never knew, he starts a fight that inevitably results in his hospitalization. After getting out of the hospitable, Jason buys a gun from a thuggish ghetto drug dealer and pays a special visit to Cross & Son, but things somehow inexplicably work out in the end in a cop out of a cinematic conclusion clearly meant to appease to the fairytale sentiments of the average philistine American filmgoer.

Beginning as a sort of a vaguely more nihilistic, East Coast rip-off of Drive (2011) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn minus the striking synthesizer-driven soundtrack and concluding in an anti-climatic manner that is no more thrilling or chilling than a number of other segments in a flimsy film that tediously relies on endless tension yet has no great pay-offs, The Place Beyond the Pines is a recklessly assembled work that tries to be everything as a sort of would-be-epic Hollywood pseudo-arthouse flick with a narrative that aspires to be a postmodern Greek tragedy of sorts contained in a world where the American Dream has devolved into a decidedly depressing dystopian nightmare, yet only manages to be a halfway entertaining way to waste 140 minutes and is ultimately nowhere near the monumental masterpiece that director Derek Cianfrance was hoping for. Indeed, one can respect Cianfrance for attempting to pull-off a film where a superstar like Ryan Gosling is killed off only about 1/3 into the movie, but it is quite apparent that The Place Beyond the Pines loses steam after this point and turns into a somewhat mundane lesson in morals and sins of the father as if the director was the first filmmaker in film history to consider that some cops might be more corrupt than cons and that there might, in fact, be no such thing as real ‘heroes.’ Of course, European films have been covering such themes since the dawn of cinema and post-WWII European cinema is dominated by such patent pessimism and negativity, albeit to a more ambiguous and authentic degree, thus The Place Beyond the Pines will probably only seem like something new and groundbreaking to the sort of uncultivated Hollywood cinephile that claims to love cinema, but has an incapacity for watching films with subtitles and understanding anything aside from the cheap and contrived pseudo-subversive melodramas that the swindlers and carny hucksters of Sunset boulevard have been spinning out since the late-1960s. 

 Surely the expression of a film school trained director who watched way too many Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Paul Thomas Anderson films during his lifetime, The Place Beyond the Pines is the conspicuously contrived creation of a man that knows a lot about post-classical Hollywood (or the so-called “American New Wave”), but not much else, especially life, as if he just came to the realization that America is run by liars from areas like NY who have spoiled children who for some reason wish they were black and “keeping it real” (non-European-run Hollywood itself is largely to blame for the cultural vacancy that is America and the absurd myth of the culture-producing Negro). I doubt many people, including brain-dead Americans high on Tarantino's celluloid turds, will see it as any revelation that the double bastard (both racially and socially) son of a criminal could grow up to be a more honorable individual than the son of a pussy cop with a law degree who cons and connives his way up to being the New York State Attorney General because, as Brad Pitt’s character states at the conclusion of Killing Them Softly (2012)—another film that strives for greatness but is just another piece of plastic pomo pretentiousness—“In America you’re on your own. America is business,” and in business there is no place for morals or culture, especially in an extra-European cultural and racial bastard like the United States of America. Like the completely compromised character Avery Cross that he portrays in The Place Beyond the Pines, director Derek Cianfrance is someone who knows the right thing to do when it comes to his job (i.e. create celluloid art), but is too caught up in the corporate and cosmopolitan system of America (or in this case, Hollywood) to do the right thing, thus his film comes off as a halfhearted attempt at cinematic artistry that reflects no deep sense of real-life learning or aesthetic integrity on the filmmaker’s part, but instead comes off as a terribly tedious and intemperate Tinstletown tidal wave of cinematic clichés, half-ass celluloid convention breaking, and a work that ultimately expresses a mundane moral message in 140 minutes that could easily be disseminated in a ten minute short by a more uncompromising auteur.  Indeed, it does not say much about a filmmaker whose greatest contributions to cinema are being known for featuring a scene where Hollywood hunk Ryan Gosling submissively performs cunnilingus on Heath Ledger's ex-girlfriend and another where the star lies dead in a pool of his own blood with a seemingly sardonic smirk on his face.  I could not help but think Gosling was smiling at the viewer for being tricked into enduring such an elaborately assembled piece of celluloid con-artistry.

-Ty E

No comments: