For the second time, Derek Cianfrance shows us his love of cinema’s loners and outcasts via the ultimate It kid of now, Ryan Gosling. There’s a case to be made for Gosling’s own fascination with the very same characters – Drive, Lars and the Real Girl, Half-Nelson – when his cinematic CV is considered. Where Blue Valentine succeeded, the pairs original outing, The Place Beyond The Pines merely comes to a stop. It’s as if Cianfrance and Gosling have done the hundred-metre dash and after Gosling powered to the end, Cianfrance has trudged, exhausted, to the finish line. Gosling’s Luke Glanton works as a motorcycle stunt rider with a travelling circus. After another event an old flame from years back, Romina (Eva Mendes), greets him. It is unclear why she has come down to see him but he soon learns she mothers a very young baby boy, the product of their onetime carnal knowledge. In an attempt to win her back and to prove he is not defined by deadbeat face tattoos, he joins forces with a very questionable Robin Van Der See (Ben Mendelsohn on auto-pilot, yet still utterly fascinating) and together they start robbing banks around the Schenectady, New York area. The flipside is this is only the first 40 or so minutes. A massive event happens and the film grinds to a halt. We’re then introduced to the other side of the law, the police, and witness how they go about dealing with Luke and Romina et al.
Cianfrance has let go of the ties that kept him ground with Valentine (eight year shoot!) and it’s of note here that he really needed this film to be released. It plays as a purging of what must have been an all-consuming previous shoot. Absent is the limited universe of his central characters: Pines spreads across two generations of people and is told in a much more Hollywood sense, complete with multi-year jump cut for the final coda.
Arguably the protagonist of the film, if not shared with Luke, Bradley Cooper is barely recognisable as the first cop called on the scene, Avery Cross. It’s not until the camera finally rests from its frantic chasing that we finally recognise the man behind Cross’ ten dollar haircut. Cooper is in fine form, playing Avery with much more vested interested than the Casual Guy at the Bar approach he’s taken of late, Silver Linings Playbook excepted. By comparison he holds his own against Gosling who eats away his scenes from the inside out, albeit helped by protein shakes and an obviously strict gym routine.
The Place Beyond The Pines takes its name from the English translation of the city name Schenectady, itself a Mohawk word. (The literal translation is ‘the place beyond the pine plains’.) Another working of this title would be a reference of judgment, the shady area that all the main characters manage to be present at some point in their life. This is Cianfrance’s area of interest. He’s not so much concerned with what his characters jobs are day-to-day but rather what decisions they made to get them to this final moment. And his next question is what will they do to escape it?
There’s a few quiet moments throughout Pines’ lengthy running time of 140 minutes (that starts to feel like 160 mins) that a more experienced director would have known how to tweak. For a man with three features under his belt however, he does show constraint with the important scenes and is getting a reputation for creating films that stick with you long after the screening ends. Considering the characters he writes and their desperation to live forever, I guess that’s the point.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire