Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Daddy issues: The Place Beyond the Pines and Mud

I'm working my way through the big films of 2013 that I missed and I started with a pair of films about fathers and father figures; The Place Beyond the Pines and Mud.

The Place Beyond the Pines is Derek Cianfrance's follow up to Blue Valentine and his second collaboration with Ryan Gosling. It has a very strange and surprising structure with the film being divided into three very clear acts but with each one following a new character. Firstly there is Ryan Gosling's Luke, a stunt motor cycle rider who turns to robbing banks when he discovers he has a son with an old lover of his played by Eva Mendes. Luke is a fascinatingly flawed character who seems determined to do the right thing by doing the wrong thing. He wants to use his skills to provide for his son but Mendes is coping fine and also has a new man who is clearly perfectly capable of looking after the child.

The scenes where Luke has to ride away from the banks and evade the cops are thrillingly shot, giving a real sense of the speed and the danger. It is only when Bradley Cooper's cop Avery shows up that things get really sticky and the film starts to follow him instead. Shot in an altercation with Luke, Cooper's character is as morally dubious as the bank robber he is chasing. His rise from cop to District Attorney is questionable, even if he does bring down corrupt cops like Ray Liotta's Deluca.

The final act of the film skips forward to when both Luke and Avery's little boys are now teens. Cooper's son AJ is a bad influence on Gosling's boy Jason and though the pair do not know their father's histories together, their relationship is at first fun but soon turns nastier. Dane DeHaan is superb in these scenes as the sins of the fathers come back to haunt the sons. The Place Beyond the Pines threatens to descend into vigilante style revenge silliness but then pulls back and emerges as something far smarter and ultimately affecting. Powered by a trio of excellent performances, some kinetic cinematography in the early scenes and an odd yet sometimes unforgettable score from Mike Patton, The Place Beyond the Pines is a fascinating film about the way our fathers fuck us up in their own ways.

Mud, on the other hand, follows two young boys from the start to the finish. Ellis and Neckbone encounter a fugitive on an island in the Mississippi River and agree to keep him a secret and help him communicate with the love of his life who he cannot visit on the mainland. Calling himself Mud and played by Matthew McConaughey, this fugitive is evading the law and vigilantes who are out for revenge. He wants to fix a boat on the island but needs the two boys' help in getting parts and also getting his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) to come with him.

Newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as Ellis and Neckbone carry the entire film on their shoulders and are absolutely superb. Ably supported by Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson and McConaughey; the boys deliver completely convincing performances as they get some harsh lessons about love and life. Tye Sheridan in particular is fantastic in scenes with his stern but fair father and when learning the hard way that love is never easy.

Mud is a simple tale, well told. Its female characters leave a lot to be desired with women appearing to be the cause of so much male strife. Neither Juniper nor Ellis' mother come across very well, while the men appear to be wiser and worn down by their women folk. Unlike The Place Beyond the Pines, Mud does descend into vigilante style revenge silliness. It climaxes with a brilliant little shoot out that is tense and if a little too conveniently plotted, still very convincing. The coming of age stuff works best and perhaps didn't need the extra excitement of snake bites and shoot outs but Mud manages to stay believable in no small part due to a cast full of fine performances.

More reviews at I Love That Film:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Out of the Furnace


Dallas Buyers Club

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

All is Lost

The Railway Man

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Captain Phillips

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