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