The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)


Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

In ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Derek Cianfrance goes for epic, harking back to the seventies golden era of one hundred and twenty minute plus masterpieces. Nowadays it seems the today’s movies can’t quite capture the share scope, complex characterisation and imagination of yesteryear, when the likes of Scorsese, Coppola and Lumet made great movies in the kind of grand scale which is more befitting of a gold standard twelve episode HBO series. ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a three act film. The first act concentrates on Ryan Gosling as the bad boy dirt biker who goes from circus stuntman to bank robber. This first act then crosses over into Bradley Cooper’s cop with a conscience story arc and then in the final act we see the next generation of sons who look likely to veer off into self-destruction and deviancy.

Critics have been harsh about the final two acts, compared to the crash and burn opening from the moment when Bradley Cooper is recuperating in hospital things slow down considerably. Cooper doesn’t quite seem right for his role, more in age than anything else. When the film fast forwards about fifteen years Cooper look doesn’t change all that much. I suppose a wiser, older head could’ve been cast, but given Cooper’s talent he makes the role work despite the age authenticity question marks.

Cianfrance has a great premise with the idea of a daredevil stunt biker who turns into daring criminal, but I don’t necessarily think that the baton change, which holds the movie together, works all that well. Certainly the trailer for the movie misleads us into the significance of Gosling’s role. In terms of time spent in the film, and I’m being deliberately careful not to spoil this movie, Cooper it could be argued is very much the lead. The film follows him from rookie cop to becoming District Attorney. But the interest, the captivating performance, comes from Gosling in his brief role as Handsome Luke.

I don’t know, maybe it could be argued that Cianfrance could’ve stretched out Gosling’s story over the entire movie, but he wanted to create a bigger story, one that spans generations, Fathers and sons and their fractured relationships. There’s Gosling, the wayward rebellious biker who finds out he has a son and then tries to become a provider, forgetting that Fatherhood is more than just being a breadwinner. There’s Cooper’s Avery Cross, who in his hour need finally turns to his Father when he’s staring down the barrel of a gun. And then finally we have AJ and Jason, who need the stable presence of a supportive Father to keep them on the straight and narrow.

I think the strongest performance in the movie comes from Ben Mendelsohn as Robin, a roughneck mechanic, and semi-retired bankrobber who becomes a surrogate Father figure for Gosling’s Luke. Mendelsohn encourages Luke, gives him a home and a job, helps him to rob banks, but quickly finds himself cast aside when Luke wants to do a double bank job, a plan so outrageous and ambitious that it scares Robin away.

Certainly Derek Cianfrance has a wonderful style, and is able to get performances from his actors. What hampers him is that his good ideas and concepts lack the killer big ending that ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ deserves.


The Place Beyond the Pines on IMDB


Blue Valentine (2010)

Blue Valentine promo movie poster AFM 2009

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

When the credits rolled at the end of ‘Blue Valentine’ I wasn’t sure if I’d seen a masterful representation of the cold deterioration of a long-term relationship, or a film that tries much too hard to make Dean & Cindy the millennial generation’s Romeo and Juliet.

There are several scenes which are at odds with the bleak tone of the movie, but these are useful in the sense that they represent the wistful way in which we reimagine our own memories of the good times. If we are to take them literally as scenes which actually happened then they somewhat tarnish the movie. For example the kooky serenading that (Dean) Ryan Gosling does to (Cindy) Michelle Williams in front of a quaint little shop with a red heart hanging up in the doorway is the kind of nauseous lovey dovey tripe that could be used in an advert for

Swallowing the brief romance is a small price to pay because the good stuff comes in the bitter arguments. I don’t know if I’m a masochist, but I was heartily chewing through a bag of Haribo Starmix as the couple sniped and bickered away at each other. The break-up plays out with the same intense anguish as a Richard Yates novel. It was Yates who said “If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.”

Dean and Cindy are lonely people, and they never truly gel as a couple. Dean becomes dependent on Cindy, to be the stabilizing force in his otherwise freewheeling and directionless life, to act as his anchor. Cindy on the other hand has to settle for second best. She gives up the strong charming masculine wrestler Bobby for Dean. She works as a nurse, when her ambition was to work her way much higher up the medicine ladder.

The last scene of ‘The Graduate’ shows two young lovers looking petrified about their future together. They sit at the back of a bus, on that great unknown road that might lead to marriage and children, settling down, living an ordinary life. For me that scene has always represented the most accurate representation of the fear that love can bring. Is this person right for me in the long term? Although the reality is that nobody asks themselves this impossible to answer question. Although perhaps they should at least find some time to reflect upon this, because when it all goes wrong, everything turns to shit.

Director Derek Cianfrance tells his tale using flashbacks; we start and end in the present, with the disintegration interwoven in a nostalgic look at those ‘better days’. Cracks appear early as the couple argue about preparing breakfast for their young daughter, and the carelessness of leaving the gate open which led to the disappearance of the family dog. This seems to stem from tiredness, Cindy is exhausted, working long hours for little reward. Dean on the other hand works as a painter who makes enough to get by, and operates in a relative stress free environment, although any possible stress is tempered by cigarettes and alcohol.

In the flashback scenes Dean is a daydreaming removal worker with artistic talent, Cindy is a medical student with a promiscuous side. Cindy is seeing a guy on the wrestling team, and Dean has an idealized concept of finding true love which is irrationally romantic, the kind of notion that is destined to end in a bruised ego. Somehow their paths cross as Gosling moves an elderly man’s belongings across the States to a retirement home that happens to house Cindy’s Grandmother who is suffering from dementia.

Dean muses about love with a co-worker before he meets Cindy and says “I feel like men are more romantic than women. When we get married we marry, like, one girl, ’cause we’re resistant the whole way until we meet one girl and we think I’d be an idiot if I didn’t marry this girl she’s so great. But it seems like girls get to a place where they just kinda pick the best option… ‘Oh he’s got a good job.’ I mean they spend their whole life looking for Prince Charming and then they marry the guy who’s got a good job and is gonna stick around.”

He’s got it wrong; in fact it seems to be a recurring theme in the film as Dean keeps getting it wrong. This comes to a head when the couple retreat to a seedy sci-fi themed hotel room with a shit load of booze in order to try and rekindle their relationship. Cindy laments upon Dean’s failure to not be able to capitalize on his creative potential. Dean then reveals to her that he never wanted to be a father or a husband, but he is content to continue to play these roles. The whole night is a disaster, and when work calls for Cindy to cover a shift at the hospital she hurries away.

It is evident from Gosling and Williams performances just how committed they were to the script, which they both read several years before production began. Their natural dialogue, most of which was improvised and a great deal of preparation for getting into character as a couple makes this almost voyeuristic viewer experience, ‘Blue Valentine’ is a harrowing peep through the curtains into domestic strife.


Blue Valentine on IMDB
Buy Blue Valentine [DVD]