A Small Town Drama With Big City Aspirations
Remember the saying, “April showers bring May flowers”? The same goes in cinema. April is the Hollywood awakening, a time when the occasional tulip creaks forth from the early year sludge to make room for the blockbusters of May. The dreck and discarded may make up January through March, but there’s always a couple of blooming roses at the start of spring. Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Blue Valentine is one of those shining sunflowers. A film of depth, complexity and emotional weight, The Place Beyond The Pines is an excellent way to say good-bye to the cinematic doldrums and ease your way into the madness of summer.
After the unexpected success of Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling is again at the lead of the film playing roughneck motorcyclist Luke Glanton. When returning to a small town with a traveling circus, Luke discovers he has a son in town, courtesy of a one night stand with a working girl named Romina (Eva Mendes). Wanting to care for the boy, he stays in town to attempt a re-connection with his infant son, despite Romina’s relationship with another man. On the other side of tracks is Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a local police hero who learns the corrupt side of small town law enforcement. Throughout the course of fifteen years, Avery and Luke’s lives intertwine personally and in the outcomes of their respective sons with sometimes shocking results.
If there’s one thing Blue Valentine taught us, it’s Cianfrance has an uncanny knack for directing actors. Once again firing on all cylinders, Gosling portrays the bad boy with a heart with his signature quiet intensity. From Brick to Drive and now with Pines, Gosling is fast becoming one of the finest anti-hero actors of this generation. While we all know Gosling is superb in everything he’s in, its Cooper who shines the brightest. If you thought Silver Linings Playbook was a fluke, his performance in Pines will make you a believer. Cooper’s work is finely tuned and while the character leaves little room for range, it makes up for it in subtlety. Never thought I’d say this, but Bradley Cooper is the real deal. The rest of the cast fills out the world nicely, including a fantastic supporting role by Ray Liotta as the local crooked cop and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) as Luke’s grown up son.
Despite the excellent direction, Cianfrance broadens his filmmaking playbook with sometimes mixed results. The action scenes (yes, action scenes) are filled with headache inducing shaky-cam shots but due to some excellent editing by Jim Helton and Ron Patane, the ill effects are reduced. The director’s inexperience also comes out in some of the gear grinding required to make the twisting story work. There are many left turns and convenient coincidences in Pines and while good character work holds everything together, you need to stretch your disbelief a bit to stay in the picture.
In the end, there’s a lot for film fans to love here. Excellent performances and lovely direction mask some of the storytelling leaps of faith the movie takes to reach its satisfying conclusion. As the weather gets warmer, the din of Hollywood blockbusters can be seen on the horizon through internet trailers, gaudy billboards and the clacking of a thousand keyboards. If the coming tide is an inescapable wave of air conditioned noise, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines is a sound proof shelter against the coming storm. Even at its most intense, there’s a layer of quiet in this film that prepares you for coming summer season. Worth at least one watch, The Place Beyond The Pines is a lovely piece of filmmaking that perfectly bridges the Season of Schlock to the Season of Rock. Enjoy it while you can, film fans. Enjoy it while you can.
Score – 90%