Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

Big movies need big ideas to support them. In the 1956 film Giant (the most apt title ever for such a behemoth film), against the wide-open skies of Texas, big movie stars Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson deal with discrimination whether it be about class status or race. Another sprawling James Dean film, East of Eden, deals with the love of fathers and sons in such a grand manner that it becomes almost biblical. (The book the film was based on is, in fact, adapted from the Cain and Abel story.) Derek Cianfrance's new film opening on Friday, The Place Beyond the Pines, another film that deals with the complex relationships of fathers and sons, the consequences of our actions, and the legacy of future generations, calls to mind those films that came before it and deserves to take it's place among those epics. 

The film unfolds in three connecting story lines. The first stars Ryan Gosling as a rebellious motorcycle driver who works in a traveling carnival. After arriving in Schenectady, he find's that the girl he left a year ago (a deglamed, Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son. He quits his job on the road and takes up with a whacked-out auto mechanic (played creepily by Austrailian actor, Ben Mendelsohn) who convinces him that the only way to support his new-found family is to rob banks. 

Gosling, after his stony turn in Drive, is becoming the go-to actor when it comes to mysterious anti-heroes. With his body covered in tattoos, his hair dyed bleach blonde, he becomes the picture of cool. Most of his lines are delivered with a cigarette dangling from his lips as if he can't even be bothered to take it out. Watching the film, I was reminded of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen in the way he embodies such ease and charisma. And like those icons of the screen, he's got the skill to be more than just a movie star. The scene in which he enters a church witnessing his son's baptism is especially moving. 

The action then is passed off to Bradley Cooper playing a young cop. He has to deal with corruption within his unit (including a menacing Ray Liotta) and struggles at home with an inability to look at his newborn son. Cooper, who's better here than he was in his manic, one-note performance in Silver Linings Playbook, convincing plays a man at odds with himself. After years playing Frat boys and mindless comedies, he's quickly establishing himself as an actor to watch. 

We then jump 15 years into the future (or present day, as the previous stories are told in the 90's) when we meet the teenage son of Ryan Gosling's character (Dane DeHaan) and Bradley Cooper's son (Emory Cohen) who form a friendship despite the odds against them. But, the tension between them threatens to unleash secrets from the past.

At 2 and a half hours, the film certainly has a lot to say. And the first time the narration gets passed off, I wondered if the story was in danger of spiraling out of control–Crushing under the weight of too many ideas. After all, why were we suddenly having to invest our time in a completely new character? Wouldn't it have made more sense to go back and forth between the two from the beginning? But, the addition of the third story line gave it cohesion for me. There were also times when the score seemed to overpower the actions on screen. It seemed too grand for what was occurring. After the film is viewed in its entirety, the scope of it made sense. 

You start off believing that it's a small drama about a man trying to gain the love and trust of  his family, but then the camera pulls back to show that's just a small part in the puzzle. Cianfrance is telling a much grander story, that you don't realize the impact of until viewed as a whole. I have a feeling this film is going to polarize audiences who are either going to be onboard with the narrative or those who believe it just doesn't come together. Sure, it may be big and messy. But, isn't that how families are to begin with? And I'd rather have it that way than a film that plays it safe. Those that risk the most have more too gain. Just ask those filmmaker's from Hollywood's Golden Age–the one's with the big ideas.

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I attended an advanced screening of The Place Beyond the Pines at BAM that was attended by director and writer Derek Cianfrance, co-writer Daries Marder, and the young actors that play the sons in the third act, Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cianfrance had a lot of stories to tell which I'll share after the jump. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead... 
Marder, DeHaan, Cohen, and Cianfrance hogging the mic
Cianfrance said that he worked on the screenplay for 5 years and narratively was inspired by the three act structure of the silent film Napoleon and the narrative shift in Pyscho. He loved how the movie is about Janet Leigh for the first 45 minutes, then she's killed off and it's about Anthony Perkins. 

The original finished screenplay was 158 pages long and the producers said he could only have the money to shoot if he got it down to 120. So, he shrunk the text and got rid of the margins to meet the request without cutting anything. But the cutting had to come in the editing room. The initial finished film was 3 and half hours.

At a dinner party, Cianfrance asked Gosling (whom he directed in Blue Valentine) what he's always wanted to do in life but was too afraid to do. Gosling replied rob a bank, but he didn't want to go to jail. Cianfrance told him about the film he was writing and said, I'm gonna make your dream come true and you won't even have to go to jail!

DeHaan was originally asked to read for the part that went to Cohen, but he felt that the role of Jason (Gosling and Mendes's son) was more appealing (even though he's described in the screenplay as a incredibly muscular half-latino). He put himself on camera, but Cianfrance thought that it was arrogant of him to read for the other character. Thinking he wasn't going to be a team player, he tried to cast someone else. But, after a year of not being able to, he realized that DeHaan was right and ended up casting him.

Bradley Cooper came in to read and Cianfrance was taken by his uneasiness, which he thought worked for the character. He then started writing with Cooper in mind. When Cooper got the script he wanted to back out because he didn't think he could do it. Cianfrance drove 5 hours to the set of The Words in Montreal and had a 4 hour dinner trying to convince him. He said that Cooper eventually agreed because he wore him down.

Gosling had an idea for his character: more tattoos than any other character on film. Including a face tattoo. He thought it would be cool. After the first day of filming, he went up to Cianfrance and said, 'I think I've made a huge mistake with the face tattoo. Can we just re-shoot what we did?' But Cianfrance told him that it's fitting that the film is about consequences and Gosling was just going to have to live with the choice he made.

He also said that Goodfellas is his favorite film and he wanted to write a part for Ray Liotta.

There's a photo that's taken of Gosling, Mendes, and their baby in front of an ice cream store. The picture is actually one of the keys that connects the three parts of the story. Cianfrance's wife in real life,  Shannon Plumb, plays the woman that takes the picture. Cianfrance said he cast her in that part because the picture is so integral to the story and he knew he wouldn't be able to have her part cut out of the final film.

This wasn't discussed at the Q & A, but Emory Cohen who play's Bradley Cooper's son played Debra Messing's annoying son on Smash last season! He's also really annoying in this as well. He's certainly building himself a niche in the annoying, New York-set, son market...

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