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Burning for Gosling

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This week I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines at the Arclight. It being a Monday, the theater wasn't packed, but it was not a bad crowd considering. Also, it's a damn long film for what it is: an earnest character study done in a realistic style with a Shakespearian frame of sins of the fathers being handed down to the sons. Its style is part Cassavetes, part Dardenne brothers by way of The Wrestler. It's told in three parts to show how the lives of different strangers are intertwined, and each episode is a passing of the focalizing baton. We start with Gosling, move to Bradley Coops and then 15 movie-years later to their sons, played by Dane DeHaan and some young goomba whose connection with his character is so tight it's magical, like a Jersey Shore thug contextualized by serious circumstances so that his personality isn't played for cheap MTV laughs but instead for the terror such brutish and reckless superficial personalities can inspire. All actors are excellent, and this is one thing that Cianfrance can do: make the simple and desperate feel as epic as a symphony.

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I loved the whole film and was engaged every moment of the way. But what I want to talk about is the first section, the Gosling section; I want to make love to this section.

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It starts with the sounds of a carnival over black. The first image we see is Gos's toned six-pack, framed tight so that his head is cut off in order to focus our attention on the full spread of idiosyncratic tattoos and the impressive opening and closing of a butterfly knife, a skill Gosling mastered -- he is the king of eccentric character behavior -- as the character anxiously paces; in the same take, the character (we later learn his name is Luke) sticks the knife overhand into the wall and walks out the door shirtless; we still haven't seen his face but we know it's the Gos: the hair, the head, the strut; as we follow him through active carnival grounds the Dardenne behind-the-head shot is kept active by the developing activity of Luke: first he puts on his signature black Metallica shirt -- pay close attention to all of Gosling's clothes in whatever he does, he is a master at evoking character through dress: The Drive Scorpion jacket; the Blue Valentine two-tone leather, I mean, come on giiiiiiirl; and here a red jacket, more nondescript than usual Gosling but still cool -- and then the cigarette comes out, but we only know this from the smoke that rolls back over his shoulders; as he winds though the dinging rides and flashing booths he is crowned by the chintzy glamour of the multicolored lights, and this is just so right, because this is what the character is: the smoking, brooding carnival king who will ride his motorcycle like no other into the burning twilight of legend; but the shot doesn't stop, he enters a buzzing tent just as he is announced by the ponytailed MC; he mounts his bike next to two other riders; the camera moves back and forth across his badass face, the first time we see it; he has a cross tattooed below his left eye and some erratic squiggly writing below his neck -- still no cut -- and then the three riders enter a porous metal sphere, and they're off; is it Gosling in there riding loops with the other two? Is this possible? There is no way that the filmmakers would risk their star in such a way, but it was all so seamless! The character is already a legend, already fused with his bike and cemented in the pantheon of mythic motorcycle rebels.

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The rest of his section is more of the same beautiful Gosling brooding and motorcycle riding. I hear he learned to ride the bike for the role, as he should have. This role is a mix between McQueen in The Getaway and some '80s metal head kids I used to know at summer camp. Yes, please, more of this. Look at how he smokes; look at the other t-shirts he wears inside out; look at the holes! Look at how he dances with the little dog; look at the homoerotic relationship with his partner in crime. The only thing that killed me was that he has to challenge a black dude for the love of his child's mother. It suddenly made it clear that the black dude should be the outsider, the challenger, the misunderstood outlaw. But this is not Gosling's doing; he played the role to a T. Look at the funny glasses he wears when he robs banks, green on the sides; look at the writing on the bike before he paints it black; Gosling touches, all, I'm sure of it.

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The rest of the film is great, but the following two sections can't hope to burn with the same intensity of the Gosling section, they're not designed that way. It's not the actors' faults, it's just that Gosling was cast as the shooting star, and he sucked up all the oxygen. I could watch that first section over and over and over and over. Because it portrays a character who is beautiful because he has a ticking clock around his neck, he's every James Dean-style kid, every burning hot rock star, Lenny Bruce mother, who speaks with his motorcycle and his style: the intelligence of style and behavior. A behavioral and sartorial genius.

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Burn hard baby.