Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance’s second feature Blue Valentine seemed to herald the arrival of a major talent on the independent filmmaking scene; made with a draining emotional immediacy and featuring raw, unvarnished performances from its leads, it portended a career renaissance for Cianfrance (netting an Oscar nomination for lead actress Michelle Williams) after a decade-long gap between his feature projects. The Place Beyond the Pines is his star-studded (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, etc., etc.) follow-up, and while it maintains focus on quality performances from his ensemble cast, the entire enterprise left me feeling a bit cold.
The film follows Luke (Gosling), a daring motorcyclist who works with a traveling carnival as he finds out a previous fling with local waitress Romina (Mendes) resulted in him unknowingly becoming a father. Determined to support Romina and his newborn son, Luke quits the circus and begins a series of bank robberies that utilize his unique vehicular talents. These heists run him afoul of the law, specifically a young police officer by the name of Avery (Cooper). The film deals with the emotional wreckage of their two paths colliding and unforeseen consequences that spiral out of control over a decade after the fact. The film essentially has three movements, each of which follows a different character leading into the next, expanding the breadth and scope to truly operatic levels by the picture’s end.
The performances cannot be faulted in this picture. Gosling continues to be a magnetic screen presence, and Cooper more than holds his own as the upstart police officer who uncovers some wide-reaching corruption in his organization as a result of this confrontation. Especially great is Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, the upcoming Spider-Man sequel) as young Jason, who brings a great recognizable quality to the estrangement his character feels from the world around him.
There’s a consistent push and pull act at play in Pines, which draws you in with emotionally resonant performances and then pushes you back with a restrained style of shooting that often creates a buffer zone between the viewer and the film. In particular, the climax is shot in a way that defuses the tension being built. And while the performances draw you back in, it’s not hard to imagine the film working more effectively if the style and content weren’t so at odds.
And for a film attempting to paint a broad tapestry and tell a story of actions and consequences that ring through many different lives, it gives unforgivably short shrift to its female characters, in effect nailing a NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign to its narrative tree house and robbing the story of added thematic complexity in place of wrong-headed moralizing.
I’ll never blame a film for trying too hard though, and even if Cianfrance’s reach exceeded his grasp with The Place Beyond the Pines (if the various threads that hold the film together don’t tear, they’re definitely frayed once we reach the conclusion), the work that Gosling, Cooper and DeHaan provide in the picture is more than enough to merit a recommendation. If Cianfrance’s camerawork had been as emotionally engaged as his performers he might have had something special on his hands, as it stands it’s merely something reasonably good.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
Distributor: Focus Features
Rating: R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Budget: $15 million
Release Date: April 12, 20