‘The Place Beyond the Pines’
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper
3 Globes (out of 5)
Derek Cianfrance is a great director, or at least acts like one. “Blue Valentine” concerns no less than love found and lost, jumping back and forth, sadistically, between Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in moony romance and about to file divorce papers. “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a literal sins-of-the-father epic told as a triptych, which also casts two of right now’s hottest actors (The Gosling and Bradley Cooper) only for them to share no more than a single shot. Cianfrance is like that — he rubs your face in dirt and truth and his own brilliance. It’s almost annoying that his films periodically gets there, despite himself.
Fitted with a balding cap “Blue Valentine,” Gosling is this time decked out in tats, including a bloody black dagger dangling off his left eye. He’s a taciturn carnival motorcycle daredevil who returns to a small upstate New York town to learn a former fling (with waitress Eva Mendes) has produced a baby. To reveal exactly how this whimsically connects him with a troubled nice guy cop (Cooper), much less the film’s third section, set 15 years later, would be cruel, as the narrative’s unpredictability is “Pine”’s strongest suit. (After the acting, probably needless to say.)
Where “Pines” winds up (spoiler: it involves a place beyond the pines) should belatedly be obvious. Once it gets there, the picture deflates, feeling small where it once felt expansive. But journey ought to trump destination, and the journey in “Pines” is caught up like few others in the detours and mistakes and sharp right turns of characters’ lives. Gosling and Cooper (and eventually young upstarts Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan) are each seen trying something, failing, trying something else, failing at that, and so forth. Success, when it comes, is transitory and ill-earned. Even becoming a successful bank robber, as Gosling does, only leads to drinking terrible beer.
Cianfrance’s script gives off the illusion of following rather than leading characters. That is an illusion, as Cianfrance has big, in some cases anticlimactic end points for his characters, but a spell broken doesn’t mean a spell wasn’t cast at all. Cianfrance’s direction is even heavier than in “Blue Valentine,” with long takes and follow shots, but less prone to shouting and also goofier. Call Cianfrance humorless, but few mega-dramas have been scored by Faith No More’s basically insane synth doodler Mike Patton.