Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta
In 2010 Derek Cianfrance announced himself as a rising filmmaker to watch with the critical hit Blue Valentine, an intimate and emotional exploration of the beginning and the end of a marriage. His latest film, the sombre drama The Place Beyond the Pines – which takes its title from the Mohawk Indian name for Schenectady, the location of the films events – is a very ambitious project. The film is an epic, multi-generational morality tale of guilt, responsibility and consequence told in three distinct but interrelated sections.
The first section, and the most engaging of the three, concerns stunt motorcycle rider Luke played by Ryan Gosling. When Luke’s circus pulls into Schenectady, he discovers that he has an infant son in the town from his visit a year earlier. This discovery sparks a paternal instinct in him and, determined to provide for his child, he sets about robbing banks, with his skills on a motorbike provng handy for getting away. Gosling and Cianfrance worked together on Blue Valentine and they appear to bring out the best in each other, as Gosling is engrossing to watch in this role.
In the second section Luke is left behind and our focus turns to young policeman Avery Cross played by Bradley Cooper. A chance encounter with Luke thrusts Cross into the spotlight. An ambitious man, Cross finds himself on a path which will lead all the way to the office of District Attorney, along which his morals are constantly being tested. Bradley Cooper showed in Silver Linings Playbook that he does possess some acting chops and his performance as a conflicted and guilt-ridden man, while not as electric as Goslings, carries the middle section of the film.
Unfortunately Cianfrance’s film loses some momentum with its final section. Set fifteen years later, this section focuses on the sons of Luke and Avery, exploring the ways in which the influences of their fathers’ actions play out in their lives. The storyline becomes messier in this closing section. You feel a narrative shift as what had been an organic story seems to make way for what the filmmaker wants to tell us. With the focus in this closing episode being shared between the two young characters, AJ and Jason, as well as an older Avery in the process of running for District Attorney, it lacks the concentrated focus of the earlier sections.
The Place Beyond the Pines is beautifully shot by Sean Bobbitt and through these four male characters it offers an interesting exploration of masculinity, but ultimately this admirable film doesn’t quite achieve Cianfrance’s lofty ambitions. It appears to be a case of the filmmaker’s reach exceeding his grasp. Some of the lines and narrative connections the film draws just feel a bit too neat. Is the destiny of the two sons as inescapable as the film wants us to believe? Can what the film wants us to accept as fate at times be more appropriately attributed to coincidence? The attempt to engage with the age old concept of the sins of the father being visited upon the son means that what starts out seemingly as a realist story ends up becoming something more akin to classical tragedy.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington
Sometimes things can snowball. You can start a series of events in motion and before you realise, the situation has got away from you. For mild-mannered Dr. Jeffrey Lang, this starting point is his decision to go ahead with an extension to his house without the required council permits. Before he knows it his life has spiralled into a mess of cat-killing, infidelity, and ultimately murder.
The Details is a hyperbolic tale of the dark side of suburbia, a place in which not everything is as it seems and you never know what is hiding behind the pleasant veneer of middle class family life. In this regard, Tobey Maguire is well cast as Jeffrey. Maguire’s baby-faced appearance and nice guy persona – which served him so well as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby – here combine well with Dr. Lang’s congenial, friendly presentation to disguise and contrast the darker aspects of his character.
Where The Details is most interesting is in the way that it challenges mainstream cinema’s usual dichotomy of good and evil in which bad people do bad things because they are bad and good people do good things because they are good. Instead The Details shows us bad people capable of doing very good things and good people capable of doing very bad things, so that when it all comes down to it no one is bad and no one is good, they are all just people.
What is notably missing from the film, however, is any form of ramification for bad deeds committed. That one thing can snowball into another and Jeffrey can find himself in a worse and worse predicament is one thing, but that there never appears to be any negative consequence or backlash for him personally makes the film unsatisfying.
The Details is a tonally odd film, with a campy style that seems to stifle the effectiveness of its thematic message. Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has given the film a light and breezy comic tone which juxtaposes its quite dark story. The result of this juxtaposition is a film that is quite difficult to know how to react to. You can’t bring yourself to laugh because the events are a bit too tragic, but at the same time you can’t completely empathise because the tone is too campy.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean