Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

WHO: Mike Patton composed much of the music for this film.

WHAT: The term "neo-noir" gets thrown around an awful lot, often being applied to any modern film that involves criminals and detectives, especially if they're interacting in urban settings providing opportunities to shoot in darkened alleyways and corridors. But the original noir cycle had social and even political signifiers that went beyond the professions or criminal predilections of its characters, or their visual schemes. These films (which were not always set in big cities) were an American manifestation of the existential angst brought upon by the social and moral uncertainties associated with World War II and its horrors.

So to truly earn the term "neo-noir", I think modern films probably need to somehow reflect the specific social and moral uncertainties of our own time, putting their characters into existential crises and exploring the psychological underpinnings of their actions. They can't be simple caper or heist films, or cops & robbers shoot-'em-ups. The Place Beyond The Pines, I think, is one of the few true "neo-noir" films I've seen in recent years, by this definition. I went into it not knowing much about it and I think it's probably best if others do too, so I'm not going to say much about it's plot. 

The film doesn't look (or, thanks to the excellent musical soundtrack, sound) much like what usually gets labeled as "neo-noir". It's decidedly anti-urban, being set in a relatively small upstate New York town, all the better to create a believable microcosm of interconnected human relationships. It's indeed a film all about human relationships, particularly those between fathers and sons, and it mirrors some of the greatest classic noirs in that characters are essentially trapped by their own circumstances and feel fated to make precisely the errors they want so desperately to avoid. It's a lovely, and for me quite moving, film.

WHERE/WHEN: It's screening at more than a dozen Frisco Bay cinemas this week, both arthouse and multiplex, with multiple showtimes each day. I'd like to particularly highlight it's booking at the 4-Star, where it shows 3-4 times daily through this Thursday.

WHY: With the San Francisco International Film Festival receding from view, it might be a good time to catch up with theatrical releases that you weren't able to catch during the festival or the run-up to it. If you waited this long to see The Place Beyond The Pines you're in luck that this shot-on-35mm film only just yesterday became available to view locally via a 35mm print (at the 4-Star only, I believe). It's becoming an increasingly common trend for a film's initial release to local theatres to be a digital one, with a 35mm print appearing only weeks later. Patience can be rewarded for those who like to see their films screened on film. Although we're still waiting to see a print of To The Wonder, for instance.

Additionally, if you liked or even loathed the festival's presentation of the silent Waxworks with a newly-commissioned score by four musicians including Patton, your interest in seeing a film to which he contributed musical accompaniment, with the blessing of its director, may be stoked for comparison purposes. 

Finally, with the Roxie having just embarked on a two-week exploration of classic noir back streets and underpassages (check out Pam Grady's article on the Roxie series if you haven't yet), it may be just the right week to try and fit in a viewing of The Place Beyond The Pines, as a comparison point with the wartime and post-war films being shown there, and so you can let me know what you think of my own reaction to it as an authentic neo-noir piece.

HOW: 35mm print at the 4-Star, but I believe all other theatres are screening via DCP.


  1. Brian: I agree with you that this film is lovely and moving, In fact, I'd go further to say it's one of the strongest new American movies I've seen in the last few years. It deserves to be appreciated the way it was shot (by the talented Sean Bobbitt) on 35mm. Too bad the showings are in House 2 which has possibly the smallest screen in the Bay Area, and that there is occasional sound bleeding from what seems like an especially noisy literary adaptation in House 1. I sometimes think about the difference, and the distance travelled if any, between a movie's opening shot and its closing shot. In this case there appears at first glance to be a fatalistic repetition, but then there is a whole other feeling in the way the action is laid out in space.I'll be mulling over this work for some time to come.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Larry. Wonder if you have anything to say about my assertions re: neo-noir?

  3. I don't challenge its inclusion as a neo-noir, I just wonder sometimes if the genre labeling is all that helpful,I see more in common with say one of the socially conscious novels by Zola, where the failings of one generation are sadly passed along to the next.

  4. Well, Zola's Therese Raquin has been called "The First Crime Noir Novel" so perhaps our reference points aren't so different...