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The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines film posterSynopsis

Starring Ryan Gosling as Luke, a motorcyclist stuntman and bank robber, and Bradley Cooper, as Avery a police officer and aspiring lawyer.  Ryan Gosling has a child, Jason, by Romina (Eva Mendes) and tries to provide for him by robbing banks.  On one robbery he is chased and shot by Avery, what will happen?  Avery is contacted by corrupt cop Ray Liotta who finds the robbery money in Eva Mendes’ house.  We then jump fifteen years to where the son of Avery (Bradley Cooper) is bad and the son of Luke (Ryan Gosling) is impressionable.  There is a confrontation between Jason and Avery.  Will it end well?

Review

Ryan Gosling is supposed to be the big star at the moment, he’s certainly cornered the motoring and motorcycling roles.  He seems to have James Dean’s ability to root a presence and its mood and let those around him respond to this.  I’m impervious to his supposed acting charisma though I was intermittently sympathetic with him as the failed husband in Blue Valentine.  In this film, he’s the confused drifter looking in at domestic bliss as he watches the christening of his boy, reminding us of Glenn Close looking in at unachievable happiness in Fatal Attraction.  Bradley Cooper is watchable as the ambitious cop (with the inevitable legal bigwig of a father whom he must please).  Romina’s new partner is the predictably nice and bland Mr Reliable in contrast to the feckless Luke.  Ray Liotta is convincingly menacing as the corrupt cop, scarily alert to imagined belittlements, the controlling bully.

There are creaking implausibilities in this film.  Would it really be so easy for Luke to rob banks by just walking in with a sack?  Given today’s technology I doubt this would be possible.  Wouldn’t the perspex screens afford more convincing protection to the bank clerks?  Wouldn’t all the banks be on the alert after his first robbery?  He expertly speeds off on his motorbike, so wouldn’t his stuntman job make him a prime suspect?  Was his accomplice caught, if not, then how did Avery know he was Luke’s friend?  Avery eventually deals with the corrupt Ray Liotta but what was he doing with these bad cops in the first place given his career aspirations and ethical concerns?  Avery’s confrontation with Jason looks very contrived, an enactment of attempted revenge for the killing of his father by Avery who is guilt ridden and seeks absolution.  I think this is meant to be a sort of resolution as he finds his spiritual father.  The two sons are prodigal sons who suffer for the sins of their fathers.  This becomes all rather biblical, the predictable binary of good father/bad son, bad father/good son.  This is very neat and dramatically absorbing but it has an ultimately unconvincing symmetry to it, it’s too black and white.  As usual in such crime dramas, women take stereotypically passive and suffering roles. They are either single mothers trying to make a living or decoratively beautiful wives always amenable to the requirements of the male ego.  Watchable but badly flawed.

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Holy Motors

Holy Motors film posterSynopsis

A ‘surreal’ film by Leos Carax about a family man, Denis Lavant, who travels to different appointments in his stretch limo. The appointments start from a cinema full of dead people, then there is an electrified dance cum snake fight, he’s an elderly beggar, a mad tramp abducting a fashion model from a cemetery (Pere Lochaise?), he stabs his double, he shoots a banker, leads an accordion band round a cathedral, he meets Kylie Minogue who sings and wants to do away with herself, he meets a girlfriend in a hotel and comes home to another family at night.  The stretch limo joins others in a garage and they discuss the day’s events…

Criticism

This is similar to Cosmopolis insofar as it involves an unusual journey through the day in a white stretch limo.  It is also a bit similar to Burt Lancaster’s The Swimmer but whereas that film involved a descent from bourgeoise luxury to eccentricity.

Those who can only take their surrealism with the classical Daliesque bent wheel of Hitchcock’s Spellbound will find this film very irritating.  At the most obvious and superficial it could be like a dream though it lacks the claustrophobia you’d expect from that.  Its images are out of their usual context, it’s a magical mystery tour around the sheer oddity of our capriciously designated notions of ‘normal’ reality.  In an age when anything delphic and rebellious has been comodified by the banalities of Hollywood plot and character requirements, it’s refreshing that Carax sticks two fingers up at those expectations.  His characters do the ‘weird’ and unexpected.  For me, the appointments are performance art, a way of bracketing time so that we can explore the effect we have on each other.  Sometimes the dialogue expresses wishful thinking (in the hotel room with his younger girlfriend) and at other times the responsibility inherent in what we say to each other.  Lavant talks about the beauty of the act as if it’s some amoral manifesto for cinema.  That beauty means leaving people to suicide or killing.  Is this really the adoption of personal?   Sometimes it seems more like a fractured self which has no underlying continuity that puts on masks.  The roles do seem to be those of typical outsiders; beggar, madman, murderer, confessional presence, counsellor.  Each appointment seems to have an episodic structure but is really more like different fragments of a broken mirror.

The chauffeur is called Celine.  She could be Lavant’s secretary or mentor, we never know.  Sometimes the camera lingers too long on a scene (Monty Python joked about this in The Meaning of Life when a camera follows Eric Idle as he goes on a long walk) but this is the luxury of not observing the Aristotelian rules of beginning, middle and end of a story, daily life is open ended and has none of the satisfying coherence of a simple story.  When Carax goes home at night it’s not to the art deco house he left in the morning but to a small apartment he shares with a couple of chimps.  This is one of the film’s satirically Bunuel moments.  There are also shots of the film’s origins and it ends with talking motor cars but these cars are more like priests than anything out of Disney.  Great film.

 

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