The Place Beyond the Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
An upstate tragedy that taps into some Timeless Themes—the unrelenting bench-press of masculine responsibility and the equally heavy shit that passes between fathers and sons—this three-part drama is nonetheless more engaging for its granular detail than for its big-canvas sweep. The film, cowritten by director Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder, seems winded by the finish line, as each movement is anchored by a less engaging screen presence than the last. The torch passes from the combustible “moto bandit” (Ryan Gosling), sticking up Schenectady bank branches to provide for his newborn son, to the inwardly tortured golden-boy cop who took him out in the line of duty (Bradley Cooper) to the years-later meeting of their troubled-teenage sons (Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan).
The deep supporting cast also includes Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne and Ben Mendelsohn (who makes an impression as Gosling’s fried partner-in-crime, a role similar to the one he played in last year’s waterlogged Killing Them Softly), but many of the movie’s most human touches happen to be functions of the scenery. The evocation of the setting is just tremendous: DP Sean Bobbitt’s fluid natural-light framings convey an almost tactile sense of the county seat’s bedraggled functioning: in the marathon opening shot, Gosling walks across a trampled fairground to take his place in a daredevil crotch-rocket stunt; we glimpse the clammy ceiling tiles, and the tellers frozen in place beneath them, during an early bank robbery; the ordered clutter of the rookie cop’s home includes a bucket of stuffed animals set down right next to the television.
Like Cianfrance’s previous film, the breakup gauntlet Blue Valentine, Pines adopts a kind of ticking-time-bomb realism, determining how a set of manhood-centric resentments might come to a head over a particular span of time, waiting it out by taking very careful temperature of the surrounding environments. These bleak inevitabilities still feel a little too neat for the impeccably disarrayed worlds the director charts them through—until his next film, at least, keep this American independent filed under Strained Seriousness.
Opens March 29