May 21st 2013 04:54
After the painfully intimate examination of a relationship unspooling from tender beginnings in the starkly illuminating Blue Valentine (2009), Derek Cianfrance expands the canvas for his follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). More ambitious in scope, though arguably wrought with less success, the film expands into three interrelated stories, beginning with that of stunt biker Luke (Ryan Gosling), confronted after a performance by a young woman, Romina (Eva Mendes), he met on a previous tour through this dusty, forgettable place.
Though there is much mystery about Romina, there’s an undeniable magnetic pull for Luke and curious about this fleeting affair that might have amounted to more, he hangs around, especially after discovering her young child is tied to him by blood. He feels impelled to stay and perform peripheral parental duties but has neither the social skills to ingratiate himself into Romina’s good graces nor negotiate the mine field her current relationship with new flame Kofi (Mahershala Ali) poses.
As his displayed to stunning effect in Drive (2010), Gosling has the ability to convey deep emotions and impressions without uttering a single word: a portentous gaze, the ominous ebb in a conversation - these are treated as means to stress his character's non-verbal, intuitive reading of events. Flawed reasoning may ensue, leading to an eventual downfall like that of the enigmatically cool Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s stunning film, but Gosling’s directness of gaze and startling magnetism are now valuable assets for any filmmakers utilising his multi-faceted appeal.
The focus of the second stanza of Cianfrance's film’s then shifts to a police officer caught up in the preceding case. Played by Bradley Cooper, Avery fights both internal and external demons: his wife (an underused Rose Byrne) is desperate for him to leave the force, whilst some less than scrupulous colleagues, headed by Ray Liotta’s Deluca, would like to steer him down a path that illegally exploits his recently acquired but unwanted fame.
Cooper, whose turn in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) was a genuine career breakout, returns to more regulation work for Cianfrance. Something doesn’t ring true after the initial set-up of his character and as unlikely twists are worked their way into the mildly compelling narrative, the translucently understated work of Gosling earlier on becomes all the more glaring in its superiority. Things then take a more substantial turn for the worse in the film’s juddering, wholly unconvincing final stage, set 15 years down the track.
In conclusion, Cianfrance’s sophomore effort is decidedly front-loaded, beginning with its strongest, most indispensable tale. The middle peg is strong though hamstrung by a possibly miscast Cooper, whilst the final segment, painfully, becomes plagued by contrivances, awful acting, and the overwhelming stench of superfluousness as it strains to bring its overarching theme into the light, that being of the sins of the fathers poisoning the trail of their descendants’ lives. Kudos to Cianfrance for following through on the promise of his first film with another bleak, thought-provoking drama, but in the wash-up, an elongated, more richly developed first segment may have carried a film on its own.