Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond The Pines (Focus, 3.29) “is basically an upstate New York crime story about fathers and sons,” I wrote on 9.8. “It’s also about cigarettes and bank hold-ups and motorcycles and travelling carnivals and nobody having enough money and anger and bullheadedness and the general malaise that comes from living in the pure hell and suffocation of Schenectady and those Siberian environs…I’ve been up there and it’s awful so don’t tell me.
“It’s also about men and their lame cock-of-the-walk issues in Cianfranceville, or the Land of the Constant Macho Strut and the Eternally Burning Cigarette, and if you can swallow or suck this in, fine…but I couldn’t.
“Boiled down, Pines is about the conflicted, problematic, sociopathic or otherwise questionable tendencies of two fathers (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper) and how their sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, respectively) are all but doomed to inherit and melodramatically carry on that legacy and that burden, so finally and irrevocably that their mothers (respectively played by Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne) might as well be living-room furniture, and the influence of schools, community values and/or stepfathers matter not.
“If you can roll with this world-of-Cianfrance view — i.e., wives and mothers are good for sex and breeding and cleaning and making meals and running errands and occasional guilt-tripping but when it comes to the issue of a son’s character and destiny, it’s almost entirely about dad — you might be able to roll with The Place Beyond The Pines. But I wasn’t able to. I respect Cianfrance’s ambition in telling an epic, three-act, multi-generational tale that spans 15-plus years, but I don’t respect or believe what he’s selling.
“Except for the bank-robbing and road-chase sequences I didn’t believe a single moment in this film. Okay, I bought some of it but only in fits and starts.
“You can’t have Gosling play a simple-dick man of few words who entertains audiences with his talent as a motorcycle rider and then turns to bank-robbing on the side — that’s way too close to his stunt-driving, getaway-car character in Drive.
“Plus I don’t respond well to movies with female-voiced choral music (a device that suggests that a caring, all-seeing God is watching over us) on the soundtrack plus other musical implications of doom and heavyosity.
(l. to r.) De Haan, Cooper, Mendes, Gosling and Cianfrance before Toronto Fiim Festival screening.
“Plus I hate movies about blue-collar knockabouts and greasy low-lifes and teenage louts who constantly smoke cigarettes. The more a character smokes cigarettes the dumber and more doomed and less engaging he or she is — that’s the rule. If you’re writing or directing a film and you want the audience to believe that a character is an all-but-completely worthless scoundrel or sociopath whom they should not care shit about, have that character smoke cigarettes in every damn scene.
“The principal theme of The Place Beyond The Pines is the following: “Dads Are Just About Everything and Mothers Don’t Matter Much, but Cigarettes Sure Run A Close Second!”
“In short, I thought the movie was unreal, oppressive, dramatically forced bullshit, although it receives a shot in the arm from Dane DeHaan (In Treatment), who looks like a mixed reincarnation of Leonardo DiCaprio and Benicio del Toro as they were in the mid ’90s, although he’s a lot shorter (5’7″).
“I also felt that Mendes and Byrne are too hot to live in Schenectady. Beauty almost always migrates to the big cities where the power and the security lie, and in my experience the women who reside in blue-collar hell holes like Schenectady are far less attractive as a rule. There’s a certain genetic look to the men and women of Upper New York State, and they aren’t the kind of people who pose for magazine covers or star in reality shows.