Cianfrance shows his ability to handle the bigger stuff.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan
Plot: Stunt and circus motorcyclist Luke (Gosling) returns to a town in which he had a fling with a local, Romina (Mendes) to discover he has a son. He soon turns to bank robbery in an effort to provide for them, which entwines his fate with police officer Avery (Cooper).
DEREK Cianfrance showed us with 2010’s Blue Valentine that he was a master hand in the subtlety of character- weighted relationship dramas, and now demonstrates his adeptness with bigger budgeted, powerful stories of misfortune and fate with The Place Beyond the Pines. Whereas Cianfrance allowed little room or emotional distance from the troubled relationship in the former, the latter deals with wide, fleeting camera shots that close in on characters only when dramatically necessary.
It tells the story of circus stunt motorcyclist Luke, played explosively by Gosling, who meets a local mechanic with a history of robbing banks. In the wake of the discovery of a son he never knew he had, he begins to rob banks in order to provide for his family. This leads him into conflict with beat copper Avery Cross – Bradley Cooper. Eva Mendes joins the mix as Romina, mother of Luke’s child after a one- night stand a little while back. On a performance par with Gosling, she pulls the emotional weight of the story and its developments momentarily aside (in a good way!) and reflects humanity in beleaguered circumstances. The story itself plays out well, at least for a while.
But it’s not the film’s strongest aspect. Gosling’s scene stealing and dominating presence is. Part himself in Drive, part so from Blue Valentine, his tattooed- torso appearance first frame in draws the audience along through an Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men)/Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) /Joe Wright (Atonement)- style uncut shot ending at Luke’s stunt bike, before rolling the titles to deliver one of the more memorable cinematic openings this year. Cianfrance hits all the directorial criteria, but whether it was his or his fellow writers’ mistakes late on in story development is a wonder. Around the 40-minute mark, the narrative takes an unexpected turn, and again towards the end in what becomes a risky relay- type handing over of the spotlight. The first time, it pays off, maintaining a good pace through an alternative viewpoint, but the second similar switchover drags the story to slow crawl. Fumbled together, the sequences involving Luke and Avery’s sons 15 years after their chapters grind the narrative into something that feels as though it isn’t completely sure of where it’s headed. In fact, it almost feels like a dodgy sequel in comparison to a wholly invigorating initial segment.
Some inventive visuals are accompanied by a great soundtrack, too – the trailer’s melancholy piano- lead ballad rings out effectively, and the credits see the return of Bon Iver’s The Wolves (Act I and II), having made its cinematic debut in last year’s Rust and Bone (also in the credits). Some fine camerawork also constitutes a spectacular bike chase, which takes place from only two long uncut viewpoints, both from behind police windscreens. It looks like highly stylized footage from an episode of World’s Wildest Police Chases, the cheesy uber- American narration traded in for radio chatter and shot on a handheld camera. The chase leads through a graveyard and ends with the meeting of the two leads, Luke and Avery. From an aesthetic and filmmaking viewpoint, the whole film is a delight. It’s just a disappointment that the fundamental element – the story – withers in the final act.
VERDICT: It’s a stunning visual piece with a mostly solid script and perfectly cast roles, but its duller moments overshadow an otherwise and potentially great film. ★★★