At what point do an awful series of events begin, and how can they brought to an end? Derek Cianfrance toyed with such questions in his previous feature Blue Valentine – the difficult story of two lovers bound to one another for reasons beyond immediate understanding, despite the intense misery their life together entails. His latest film goes beyond the claustrophobic intensity of a dysfunctional relationship to examine the inevitability of fate and of failed attempts at redemption across a tapestry of tragically connected stories. The Place Beyond the Pines is the story of a carnival daredevil (Ryan Gosling) whose failed bank robbery leads him to a tragic episode with an idealistic cop (Bradley Cooper), changing the fate of both men, and their families forever.
It is Cianfrance’s genius in Beyond the Pines is to explore, through these intricately and intimately woven stories, the unfolding tragedies that, through human weakness, cannot be confined to a discrete moment in time. As the narrative unfolds the audience is constantly drawn to look closer at the chain of events in perspective, towards the minutiae of the circumstantial and seemingly trivial happenings from the beginning of the movie, that suggest that if things had been different the terrible fate of that befalls the two men – and their sons – could have been avoided.
Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a nomadic motorcycle daredevil whose work on the carnival circuit brings him into fleeting contact with Romina Gutierrez (Eva Mendes), with whom he has a son, Jason. The new found knowledge of his paternity drives Luke to attempt to provide for all three; first through employment as a mechanic and then through a series of bank robberies inspired by his employer Robin, played ably by Ben Mendelsohn. The bank robberies themselves provide short, spasmodic scenes of intense, dizzying and nauseating action, the speed of helps to portray the fundamental recklessness and impulsiveness of Gosling’s character.
When taken at face value, Gosling’s part in the narrative of Beyond the Pines chimes familiarly with his role in Drive – a mechanic-cum-bank-robber drawn to care for a mother and her child – an it is tempting to make the equation. Yet the character of Glanton is very different to the Meursault-esque character played by Gosling in Drive. Glanton is sociopathic, talkative and highly emotional young man, whose reasons for caring for the welfare of the mother and child are obvious – somewhat the reverse of Gosling’s part as ‘Driver’, despite their obvious similarities.
Bradley Cooper plays Avery Cross, who enters the film during a stand-off with Glanton. Heralded first as a hero, the idealistic young police officer becomes entangled in the corruption of his fellow officers, only to emerge as someone unrecognisable from his former self, transformed by guilt.
The story then migrates from one generation to the next, focusing on Jason (Dane De Haan), Glanton’s son and the unhappy circumstances which have become his life given what to him are the unexplained circumstances of his father’s death. This final transition completes the circle as Avery’s wayward son, AJ (Emory Cohen), befriends Jason after arriving
Cianfrance must be credited for managing to hand the plot, like a terrible burden, from character to character through a series of memorable breaks which serve to enrich rather than punctuate the films storyline. In taking pages from the American cinematic playbook – bank jobs, broken homes, car chases, crooked cops and violence – Cianfrance imbues them with an intense realism that accentuates the film’s gritty, somewhat vulgar feel, putting the human suffering that these things cause at the centre of the story, rather than as a peripheral concern.
The emerging director’s penchant for bringing to the surface the regrettable side of human nature can, at times, make The Place Beyond the Pines uncomfortable to watch, but this is surely a part of its engrossing effect. Trading on themes of catharsis, responsibility and guilt, fate and inevitablity, as well as masculinity and the role of a father, Cianfrance manages to make a film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. With Ryan Gosling recently announcing an indefinite hiatus from acting it places an imperative on his fans to catch the last glimpse of an actor whose direction is far from certain.
The Place Beyond The Pines will be released at the Grosvenor Cinema April 12. For ticket information visit www.grosvenorcinema.co.uk