By Aaron Moran (Ireland)
‘If You Ride Like Lighting, You’re Going to Crash Like Thunder’
Black screen. The first thing we hear is the roar of a crowd and the flick of the switchblade, then the man holding the knife is revealed, not his face but only his tanned, muscled, tattooed body. This is our hero, he slams his knife into the wall and leaves. He walks through a semi-busy carnival shirtless until he puts on a Metallica shirt back to front. He lights a cigarette but we still do not see his face. He walks into a tent filled with an expectant audience and his name is revealed to be Luke by the announcer. He gets on his motorbike and along with his other two riders or ‘heartthrobs’ he engages in one of the most dangerous stunts captured on film.
The camera has not cut once since we first saw Luke’s intimidating physique, which makes the opening shot of this movie to be the most impressive use of a long take since the beach scene in Atonement. Even though his face has been obscured throughout, we know this is Gosling. His Luke has peroxide blond hair and some of the worst tattoos ever seen on film. He looks sad, distant, his blue eyes shimmer under the carnival lights. Luke sees Romina, a woman from his past who he barely remembers. He learns from her something which changes his entire life, he has a son and he is a father.
With this beginning, director Derek Cianfrance has crafted one of the greatest openings ever seen in an American film. Luke feels mythological in his appearance. A cowboy of today’s age who rides into town and gets the girl, only this time it is much more complicated than that. Romina has a man of her own. Luke knows he has to prove himself to her so he sets abut trying to get a job, with no skills other than his masterful ability with a bike and a presumed lack of education he goes about robbing banks.
The robbery scenes are stunningly intense in their speed and execution. Cianfrance manages to capture the intensity of a getaway without the use of quick-cuts. Luke’s plan works and makes money, he starts to spend more time with Romina and it becomes evident what first attracted them together. This is the first act of the movie and it is truly one of the most brilliant pieces of American cinema ever put on film.
Bradley Cooper’s character takes over the second act of the film. He plays a cop called Avery who was injured in an accident and becomes a hero at the force. Avery is ambitious and intelligent, he is also racked by guilt but this only becomes apparent later on. This section of the film is still great but it is quite a by-the- books cop corruption movie that we have seen before. Cooper is fantastic as Avery, playing against type as the most unlikable character of the piece. His performance is all internal and he plays it best with his eyes and not his body language.
The third act of the movie is one I will not discuss. It is better for the viewer to watch it themselves and make up their own minds. All I will say is that the film asks some interesting questions about legacy and forgiveness, it is a film which manages to be both raw and ethereal, Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt has managed to show the viewer the beautiful side of an ugly life. Cianfrance has crafted a film of quite power and boiling energy. He is a director unafraid to show people being people and for that I commend him.
The Place Beyond The Pines is not perfect, the second act is familiar and the third feels like it could have done with a rewrite but those first 45 minutes are worth the admission price alone. All of this makes Pines is a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece all the same.