When Blue Valentine came out in 2010, it was a very impressive piece of work and established an ‘almost’ classic contemporary version of Americana indie film-making and made whatever Derek Cianfrance did next a real centrepiece of attention. In his latest slice of pastel America, The Place Beyond the Pines, he is shifting and even expanding his view and range from an intimate couples story to charting one of fathers and sons in epic narrative sprawling 140 minutes.
Cianfrance teams up again with the actor every girl wants and every man wants to be, Ryan Gosling as he plays a tattoo laden bad boy motorcycle stunt driver Luke Glanton, who finds out he has a child with work hard mother Romina(Eva Mendes) and decide he’s going to stay around and try to be a father. In his desperation, he turns to crime to try and support his family placing him up against the youthful ambition of policeman Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) and their actions echo out and string sharp chords for both characters families.
First of all, the biggest issue that was wrong with Blue Valentine was the pacing, explosive scenes seem to come out of nowhere because Cianfrance is so focused on conclusion that he sometimes skips through the foundations. In the first quarter hour of this film goes a mile a minute as exposition, characters and relationships are introduced with months flying by and I was thinking to myself here we go again with Cianfrance just not wanting to wait to get to his climax. However, after the film settles down, it becomes probably the most gripping one hour of cinema so far this year.
From the thrilling and kinetic motorbike tracking shots to the ooze of chemistry and confrontation coming from the entire cast, Cianfrance has crafted something very special, effective and raw with emotion. The portraits of fathers are so well plotted, both characters (Luke and Avery) may be at complete opposites of society, but the pressures of natural fatherly instinct are both the same and both natural bonds are effected by societies responsibilities. There is a sequence half way through the film that is arguably one best scene in any film in recent years, when Luke robs one bank too many, we go on this wonderfully crafted chase sequence and something very unique happens. Without giving the narrative away, the narrow world of fathers and sons Cianfrance has worked so hard to create, opens up for a moment hitting notes of and themes of a broader humanity – but the genius is this moment lasts a few minutes and we are angled back into his narrow world but seeing it at in another perspective.
This praise being said, it is with regret that the final act of this film is a lumbering and hopelessly unnecessary addition which sees Cianfrance at his concluding worst. The narrative of this act is completely predictable as we plunder through all the strings previously unwound and watch as they are tied up with convention and without a soul. It is such a shame because it almost erases the excellent majority of the film, but that middle hour is so good you can almost forgive the last act…almost.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta
Runtime: 140 mins
Cert UK: 15