GFF 2013: The Place Beyond the Pines Movie Review 0 140

The first hour or so of The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the best of recent times. Taut and compelling with a stunning mix of thrills and emotion which plays as a sort of Drive without the flashy neon lights, setting it up to be one of the best films of the year. Unfortunately it can’t maintain that momentum as it ends up trying to be too many things at once.
The plot centres on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stunt rider who to his surprise one day finds out he has a baby son to a woman he thought he’d never see again (played by Eva Mendes). As a way to provide for them he starts to rob banks with the help of newfound friend Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), which leads him onto a collision course with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance made his name with the achingly truthful and affecting Blue Valentine, the ultimate anti-rom-com which also starred Gosling. And while Cianfrance has delivered an ambitious, far-reaching tale of crime, love and redemption here he suffers from that difficult follow-up syndrome.
It’s a film of segments, the first of which is clearly the strongest and tends to overshadow the rest of the film not only being more gripping but feeling like it’s part of an entirely different movie altogether. Cooper elevates the middle chunk of the film from its otherwise clichéd nature with a complex and emotional portrayal of a conflicted rookie cop.
But it’s in the final section where the film really lets the side down; not to give too much away but at a certain point we jump ahead to see how the events so far have affected the characters in the years to come and while it’s emotionally well-handled and acted by its stellar cast it feels unsatisfying, relying on coincidences and heavy-handed foreshadowing of how it’s all going to tie together in the end. It’s a bold, uncompromising approach to switch channels like it does but misfires when it should hit the target.
There’s a lot to like about The Place Beyond the Pines from its cast jam packed with very talented actors (Gosling as good as ever, Cooper continuing to prove his worth and so forth) to its bold attempts at melding together several different stories and throwing heavy themes of paternal responsibility and redemption into the mix that really resonate throughout. It’s so close to being a really good film but with a runtime that’s well on its way to being two and a half hours long it’s unnecessarily lengthy, piling too many events on top of another resulting in a film thats reach exceeds its grasp.
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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Killing Ground 0 649

This review was previously published at The National.

This audacious and especially gruelling Aussie horror-thriller from short film-turned-feature director Damien Power centres on a young couple, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Margaret (Maya Stange), who take a camping trip with their baby to a remote and idyllic spot in a national park.

Once there they discover another group’s camping gear, however the people are nowhere to be seen. Upon some investigation they find themselves a part of a gruesome crime perpetrated by a couple of unknown assailants who appear to be hunting them down.

This impressive debut exemplifies the horror genre’s unique ability to unnerve an audience, lulling us into a false sense of security as so many horror films do with a pair of amiable leading characters and a sunny prospect of a calm holiday retreat before slamming home the horrific truth of the matter.

Using a very clever narrative structure of flitting back and forth between the present couple’s predicament and what exactly happened to the group that set up camp before them, the film drags us by the scruff of the neck down a gruesome and astutely disquieting road that makes for equal parts compelling and shocking viewing.

The horrifying events are amplified by Power’s decision to shoot them with a serene passivity. He allows the unfolding threat and repulsive violence to occur in an almost matter-of-fact manner, utilizing stillness captured by the beautiful cinematography to offset the horror. It conjures a deeply uncomfortable sense that, adding to the film’s largely cynical disposition, bad people exist in the world who commit terrible acts and there’s often nothing we can do about it.

Killing Ground effectively continues the line of grizzly Aussie horrors like Long Weekend, Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, as well as particularly evoking the Brit gem Eden Lake. This is an example of cinema that knows how to ramp up the tension by never being afraid to show the brutal reality of a scarily believable predicament – in every way it’s unapologetically not for the faint-hearted.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Home Again 0 633

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10