After the claustrophobic intensity of Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance’s latest film, featuring the two Hollywood ‘hommes du jour’ Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, is a more sprawling but no less emotional follow-up. Seemingly never content to tell just one story, Cianfrance has arranged The Place Beyond the Pines into a series of separate yet connected sections. Whereas Blue Valentine told the story of the very beginning and the very end of one couple’s relationship, The Place Beyond the Pines follows two men and their sons, and the way in which all four are bound together by one single event.
The exploration of cause and effect makes for an interesting basis to the film, which concerns the far-reaching consequences events can have years after they initially happen, even through generations. Unusually for a crime drama, The Place Beyond the Pines tells the story of both the criminal and the cop, empathising with both their situations and noting the duality between them. It examines the idea of public perceptions vs. private realities, finding the truth that lies somewhere in between.
The story is stylishly told, the ‘Pines’ of the title often providing a panoramic backdrop for the action, which includes a series of motorbike chase sequences shot in dizzying handheld style. The particularly impressive opening take – a tracking shot following Gosling as he walks through a bustling fairground, sets the tone for an adrenaline-fuelled first section.
Unfortunately, the film has difficulty keeping up the pace of such a striking opening. What starts out as a gripping genre piece soon descends into emotional turmoil, never reaching the point of total melodrama, but still coming as a disappointment after such a promisingly thrilling beginning.
Strangely familiar territory is covered as Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a stunt motorbike driver / occasional mechanic who finds himself involved in a botched robbery as he tries to look out for the woman he cares for and her child. Unfortunately, replace the word ‘motorbike’ with the word ‘car’ in that description, and you’ve got Gosling’s character in Drive. Despite this undeniable similarity, Gosling manages to bring something different to the character of Luke, lending him an air of vulnerability hidden under the veneer of toughness projected by his perilous profession, violent outbursts and charming face tattoo. Unfortunately, when Gosling is not on screen, his absence is noted, with Bradley Cooper struggling to match his charisma and presence, despite turning in a valiant performance as justice-loving police officer Avery Cross. Although sharing lead billing with Cooper, Gosling has a comparatively small amount of screen time, which is surprising considering how much he is featured in the film’s promotional material, a fact that will no doubt disappoint the many fans who will surely attend solely to see his performance.
Although this is a film very much about fathers and sons, it is a shame to see Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne’s talents wasted as they are relegated to one-dimensional positions as suffering partners, helpless to the actions of the men in their lives. Also, by the time the film switches to follow the storylines of Luke and Avery’s sons, the riveting exhilaration of the first hour is a distant memory, and their section is plagued by an air of predictability.
Cianfrance is clearly a promising and talented director, but has perhaps attempted too much, too soon with The Place Beyond the Pines. An excessively long running time and a focus on the less compelling of two characters lets down what is otherwise an interesting story. The sense of intimacy which made Blue Valentine so emotionally compelling is lost, instead leaving only a moody intensity which pervades the entire movie. The film is still a poignant look into family, grief and redemption, but the stylish cinematography and sincere performances struggle to overcome the problems of an overly ambitious plot.