The Place Beyond the Pines
How much work does it take to make a great film?
To make his 2010 romantic drama Blue Valentine, writer/director Derek Cianfrance took 10 years and 66 scripts. His actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling lived together for a month in an apartment, doing dishes, cooking meals and living on a shoestring budget to muster up genuine emotion.
In comparison, his newest work, The Place Beyond the Pines, only took 6 years and 37 scripts. Cianfrance says he wanted to tackle the real grit and grime of love in his latest film. He likes to take things slow.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a father-son themed film focused on the consequences of decisions passed on to children. With an overwhelmingly star-studded cast and ambitious synopsis encapsulating more storylines than most featured films can handle, Cianfrance cut out his own work for him. The film opens in Schenectady NY ( a.k.a. “the place beyond the pines”) with motor-revving, heart-pounding music and a well-tatted, bleach-haired Luke (Ryan Gosling) prepping for his nightly gig as a motorcycle stuntman. After his show Luke sees a former fling Romina (Eva Mendes) who tells him that he has a son. Eager to fulfill the role as the father he never had, Luke drops the show burdened with a sudden need to provide. With nothing more to offer Romina than a fast ride home, Luke turns to bank robbery for a quick chance to prove he can support them
While the cuts in the film are raw and compelling, and the robberies a characteristic work of Cianfrance—messy, real, unscripted and refreshingly un-Hollywood-like—the script turns sluggish and sparse. The films feels as if its working overtime to fill in the empty gaps where substantial dialogue could have developed.
Before you can blink, it seems, the first part of The Pines is over. In fact, Gosling is only onscreen for the first third of the film. For the second act, the focus switches to Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop, husband to a lonely wife and father to a son he has little interest in. Avery’s sole focus is to leave a legacy, aside from being the good cop. A law school-dropout, Avery wants nothing to do with his father’s legacy, a well-respected former judge, but prefers to climb his way to the top in the police force.
While Avery’s complex character sees what is right and seems to want to do it, his motives are as gray as Luke’s in his attempts to make a name for himself. Though keenly aware of his own faults as a father and at one point openly discussing with a therapist his difficulty to look his son in the face, Avery knows he’s not the father he could be. Soon faced with the tangled mess of corrupt law forces, in which the most appropriately-cast Ray Liotta fits like a glove, Avery makes an ultimate decision that will haunt him.
15 years down the road and the third segment of the film arrives. Avery and Luke’s sons paths cross, taking the last lengthy remainder of this film down this long, windy road. Though it attempts a lot of “clever” twists and turns, the last half hour feels like a Lifetime movie for men.
Stylistically, The Pines is all over the page. Though this story is original and connects all characters through 16 lengthy years, each vignette is like a different film, with different angles, rhythms of dialogue and even different rushes of music, setting an odd tone and losing momentum. While the first part feels like an east-bound regurgitation of another lost boy with a gift for speed, the second a present-day Goodfellas meets the police force and the final segment of the film just feels like a bad MTV pilot episode.
Director Cianfrances clear motives in this film are commendable, focused solely on a man’s choices, consequences and legacy. Actually, he has described this effort as a “biblical film”, a movie he’s made to capture the sanctity of the “eternity of every moment.” While lofty with intention, this film feels overreaches and never manages to lift off from the pavement. While every theme and motive carries purpose, Cianfrance may have bit off more than he could chew.
In its closing scene, The Place Beyond the Pines pans across a bike trailing down a long winding road as the sounds of Bon Iver swell, apropos to the viewer’s journey of the last few hours: one long and wide road. With an allotment of 2 hours and 20 minutes, the many dead spaces may have been put to better use. It might have enjoyed getting to that Place Beyond the Pines.