The challenging narratives of 'The Place Beyond the Pines' and 'On the Road'

If you've seen the trailer for director Derek Cianfrance's new film "The Place Beyond the Pines," you are probably expecting an action-based crime thriller where a frustrated local cop (Bradley Cooper) chases down a mysterious motorcycle bandit (Ryan Gosling) who's been robbing banks. Luckily, there's a lot more to the movie than that.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" begins with a piece of dynamic myth-making, but with one key addition. From the opening unbroken over-the-shoulder take that follows Gosling's tattooed stunt cyclist Luke Glanton into a cheering crowd and beyond, Cianfrance's movie endears its characters to us and makes them easy to identify with. There's a reason baked into the story that Luke is presented as larger than life, and over two hours into the film when this scene is a distant memory, its resonance is amplified because of the time that's passed.

In its first couple of chapters, "The Place Beyond the Pines" appears to solely be about moral compromise. But Cianfrance, who also wrote the film with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, is painting on a larger canvas. The economically depressed setting of Schenectady, N.Y., and its surrounding forest and rural area serves as a fitting backdrop as its characters make tough choices that will have rippling effects on the lives around them.

Like his previous film "Blue Valentine," Cianfrance shows a strong tendency toward naturalistic filmmaking, one that isn't muddled by the usual amount of quick editing and slam-bang pacing. When the story asks that you accept certain coincidences as part of its conceit, it's the authenticity of the performances and intimacy of the presentation that ground the film emotionally. Even the scenes of Gosling riding at top speed on his motorcycle are thrilling in their immediacy without using any of the big-budget techniques and multiple camera angles that action directors rely on these days.

More than anything else, "The Place Beyond the Pines" is electrifying because it overcomes its structural challenges. Two hours and 40 minutes is a long running time for a low-budget family drama, especially one that confounds expectations early on and then heads in a familiar direction. The late Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it,” and that applies 100 percent to "The Place Beyond the Pines," a haunting film that makes something new out of the tradition of sprawling epic tragedies told in linear fashion.

Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel "On the Road" has been high on the list of classic books that are virtually unadaptable for as long as such lists have been around. Francis Ford Coppola had been trying to make a movie of it for almost three decades before giving up.

Kerouac's semi-autobiographical literary quest for meaning — by shunning the practicalities of domestic life during a series of jazz and drug-fueled road trips — doesn't exactly lend itself to typical cinematic structure.

It's surprising then, that director Walter Salles' film works as often as it does. Garrett Hedlund is terrific as the charismatic Dean Moriarity, exuding the kind of natural confidence that might lead Kerouac's alter ego Sal (Sam Riley) on these seemingly aimless sets of adventures. Riley himself is a little wooden, but he narrates "On the Road" with passages straight from the book (the language is such an important element of its charm), and the spot-on art direction give the film the feel of postwar America in all its contradictory glory.

At just over two hours, it is challenging to stay invested in the movie and its choppy, rambling storyline. As a filmic experience, however, it is enough to be immersed in the time period, and serves as an interesting companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson's similarly challenging "The Master."

The 12th annual national touring and fundraising film festival known as LunaFest arrives at Liberty Hall Sunday, April 14. A collection of nine short films from women filmmakers, LunaFest aims to highlight women as leaders in society and the movie in this year's crop "range from animation to fictional drama, and cover topics such as women’s health, motherhood, body image, aging, cultural diversity and breaking barriers," according to the festival's press release.

A reception for LunaFest, which raises money for Breast Cancer Fund and other women's nonprofits, begins at 6 p.m. and includes a 6:30 talk from State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and a survivor's story. The films begin at 7 p.m., and the whole event is sponsored by Lawrence's GaDuGi SafeCenter, Willow Domestic Violence Center and the Kansas Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

KU alumnus and Kansas City filmmaker Kevin McKinney is back in Lawrence on April 16 for a free screening of his anti-corporate radio documentary "Corporate FM." KJHK and Student Union Activities are sponsoring the event this Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Woodruff Auditorium.

The movie chronicles the homogenization of radio across the country while profiling, among other stories, Lawrence's ill-fated but revered mid-'90s commercial modern-rock station KLZR. KJHK also plays a part in the film, and representatives from the station will be on hand to lead a discussion with McKinney and producer Jill McKeever after the screening.


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