A tad clunky in the ambitious sprawling narrative of this picture, Derek Cianfrance’s unbridled ambition to push his storytelling abilities above and beyond Blue Valentine is a wholly admirable risk. Despite a rickety third act, which pulls together the 20 year journey of two characters on either side of the law, Pines is a thrilling auteur cinematic exercise reminscient of the ambitious blue collar dramas of the late 70’s specifically Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) dir. Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta
By Alan Bacchus
The large narrative comprises of three distinct stories with sudden shifts in character between each one, by the end encompassing 20 years of time. This is the attraction of Pines, the ambitious writer/director not content to sit on a traditional narrative and pushing his storytelling abilities and reaching for greatness. The failings of the third act means he doesn’t quite get there, but his desire for American grandiosity a la the career of Paul Thomas Anderson is hopeful and a reason to admire this filmmaker.
Ryan Gosling is introduced as the tatted up anti-hero Luke a gnarly stunt-biker in the 80’s arriving in the quiet NY township of Schenectady with a travelling carnival group. He reconnects with a lover from the past Romina (Eva Mendes) only to discover he has a son Jason. Though Luke is badass-exemplified, seeing his son rocks him to the core and is compelled to stay and be a good father. Problem is, Romina has a boyfriend with a house and a steady job.
With good intentions but very very bad judgement Luke takes to robbing banks to make money to support his son. Naturally the house of cards eventually falls down, as he’s tracked by a young righteous newbie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). And so starts part 2 of this story, Avery as a cop dealing with his corrupt police department, and the strange emotional connection to Luke’s son Jason who by tracking him down has possibly created another fatherless criminal in the future.
In the present we see the connection of Bradley Cooper’s and Ryan Gosling’s sons now teenagers and products of their divergent upbringings. Cianfrance’s stance here though is that it’s not the environment which shapes the man, but the stabile nuturing of the parents. Cianfrance tends toward slightly melodramatic closed-loop plotting to connect all the characters in the same way the screenplays of Alejandro González Iñárritu/Guillermo Arriaga did. Cianfrance’s masterplan is let down by two young actors who unfortunately can’t match the immersively quality of Gosling and Cooper.
And so Cianfrance falls under his own sword, without the grand presence of Gosling who was so mesmerizing in the first third, and even Cooper, nearly matching up to Gosling in the second third, unknowns Dane DeHaan and Emery Cohen to anchor the third act. Cohen’s characterization of Cooper’s son, AJ, who grew up wealthy and privelaged, as a milddle-class ghetto badass is in the extreme and forced down our throats. And Dane DeHaan’s depiction of Gosling’s son, Jason, more grounded than AJ, but a tripwire of rage is a bit more nuanced but lacking the star quality of Gosling/Cooper.
But the real star of the picture is Derek Cianfrance’s bold ambition. His rich anamorphic and colourful cinematography, strong cinematic composition, patient editing style and memorably unique score effectively smooth over the troublespots.