Tuesday 9 April 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) - Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond The Pines is essentially three films in one, but it’s far from disjointed.  With his previous film Blue Valentine, Cianfrance proved his worth as a director of indie character pieces, able to draw the best possible performances from his actors.  This continues with Pines, though on a larger temporal scale; a film that explores the importance of fatherhood across the generations.

The film opens with a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs – a cheeky reference to his status as sex symbol.  The shots often linger over his features, the camera as captivated by his performance as the audience.  His Luke Glanton, a motorbike stunt driver, is a dangerous, self-destructive character.  He soon discovers he has a baby son after a brief fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) a year before, who now lives with boyfriend Kofi (Mahershala Ali).  Where Kofi is the model of stability, Luke begins robbing banks with the help of car repairman Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) in a desperate, naïve attempt to provide for his family.  Cianfrance has shot this first act as a moody, noir thriller of subtle blue hues, with a roughed-up Gosling at the centre.  Luke may be a similar character to the driver from Drive, but Gosling does insular and unpredictable so well, able to say so much with so little.  Cianfrance’s use of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark at one point not only provides a sense of 80s context, but reflects the sexualised masculinity of both Springsteen and Luke (note the abs) and their disillusionment of the American Dream.

Eventually Luke’s path crosses with that of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) – a chance event that will have a profound impact on Avery's life.  So begins the second act that focuses on Avery.  The mirror image of Luke, he is a seemingly innocent and compassionate hero in a corrupt world.  He is, however, not without his flaws – not only is he wracked by guilt after the narrative-flipping events, but he is wedded to his work, uses blackmail and manipulation to progress his career, and is unable to make an emotional connection with his newborn son.  It’s a role that slowly evolves over the course of the act; with this and his recent turn in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper is an actor surely coming into his own.  Pines at this point becomes an intriguing study into the impact of one man’s life on another’s; how chance events can suddenly change our lives irreversibly; how we must live with the decisions we’ve made ‘in the moment’.

Yet the grander overall theme is that of fatherhood and how our decisions not only impact our own lives but those that we leave behind.  In the third act, the narrative shifts to fifteen years later, where the lives of Luke and Avery's sons inexplicably intertwine.  How do the sins of the fathers impact upon the sons?  It's a theme that feels overly ambitious as Pines begins to drag in this final third, the performances of newcomers Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen mere child's play with their teenage, drug-fuelled parties.  The overall film is pensive and Cianfrance leaves the audience to piece together the jigsaw of his characters' lives, but this final act - the 'real film' according to the director - provides an unnecessary jolt in narrative and tone.

Final act aside, The Place Beyond The Pines is an intricate thematic tapestry with a gripping, if ponderous, plot.  It might be flawed, but the artful cinematography and captivating performances from its male leads ensure this is a must-see.