The Place Beyond The Pines

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper have just one scene together in The Place Beyond the Pines, but it’s the pivotal scene of the movie. In a film full of interesting and well-developed characters, theirs are the ones the movie is built around. A film with strong performances from two of our best young actors is one that must be seen.

These two men are both basically good guys who each face moral dilemmas. Gosling plays a guy who rides stunt motorcycles in a carnival. He reluctantly becomes a bank robber. Cooper goes from law school to the police force where he encounters that bank robber.

The story’s good, but the main reason to see The Place Beyond the Pines is to meet all these people. In addition to Gosling’s Luke and Cooper’s Avery, Eva Mendes is Romina, a Latino who bears Luke’s son after a quick hookup. This is a non-glam role for her and she inhabits it well. Ben Mendelsohn plays Robin, a local guy who gives Luke a place to stay. Robin is also the guy who points Luke toward robbing banks.

Poor Ray Liotta. Whenever you see him in a movie, you know something bad is going to go down. He plays a crooked cop. Strong character actor Bruce Greenwood plays the local D.A. The two young actors who play the sons, Dane DeHaan as Luke’s son, Jason, and Emory Cohen as Avery’s son, AJ, also bring good acting chops to the movie.

Avery is conflicted about his being proclaimed a hero cop after his incident with Luke, but eventually he milks it and moves into politics. Suddenly, the movie jumps ahead 15 years to the relationship between the teen sons of the two men. The “third act,” as some have called this part of the movie, reveals more about Avery, as well as the boys. It provides a fitting conclusion to the narrative.

The movie is set in Schenectady, NY. The town name is Mohawk for “place beyond the pines.” According to web postings, the names of the Schenectady streets, banks, TV stations and newspaper are the actual names. The police uniforms are supposedly the exact ones worn by Schenectady cops. The story, though, is pure fiction.

The Place Beyond The Pines is among the year’s best, so far. It’s harder for a March release (April, in St. Louis) to get award nominations than, say, a November release. But good writing, excellent acting and a well-assembled movie should lead to year-end accolades. I recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Killing Them Softly

Brutality, gore and obscene language combine to deliver the year’s grittiest crime drama. Setting the film against the backdrop of the 2008 pre-election financial crisis could have been a genius move, but ultimately is just an amusing juxtaposition.

“Killing Them Softly” is not a classic but has several memorable characters and some funny dark humor.

The story: two novice hoods are sent to rob a card game that’s run by the mob. They’re nervous, but they pull it off. Brad Pitt plays a mid-level mobster whose mission is to avenge the robbery. Pitt tells a mob lawyer, played by Richard Jenkins in one of their many conversations, that he doesn’t like to get into his target’s faces, he prefers to kill them “softly, from a distance.”

He imports a gunman played by James Gandolfini to help with the killing. This subcontracted hitman has addictions, mainly booze and hookers, which render him basically useless. Also in the cast are Ray Liotta and Sam Shepard.

Cinematic highlights include one particularly violent shooting, presented in slow motion a la “Bonnie and Clyde.” Also effective is the movie’s opening whose audio switches sharply back and forth between hard rock music and Barrack Obama campaign speech soundbites.

Throughout the film we see and hear TV clips of George W. Bush making his case to congress for bailout money and references to the ’08 election. The message, apparently, is that the meltdown affected mob finances just as much as it did the rest of America.

To borrow a line from another president, let me make one thing perfectly clear: this is one of the more violent movies you’ll ever see. If that’s your thing, enjoy. If not, stay away.