His outstanding debut may have contained a tender ukelele-led song and dance number, but ideal first date film ‘Blue Valentine’ wasn’t. Devastating in its no holds barred dissection of the giddy highs and pain tinged lows of young love, director Derek Cianfrance broadens his storytelling horizons here in this equally hard-hitting follow-up. Faced with the cinematic equivalent of the ‘difficult second album’ after such worthy praise first time around, he collaborates once again with Mr Ryan Gosling. Cianfrance. Winding Refn. ‘Never since Hall and Oates has there been such teams..’
In a sly riff on his most iconic role to date (Drive), the star reinforces his tag as an adrenaline junkie, switching his allegiance from souped up cars to the enticing screech of a motorcycle. As Luke Glanton or better known to his modest fanbase ‘Handsome Luke’, underneath his enthusiastic ‘daredevil’ exterior lies the irony of living a life devoid of direction. Growing disillusioned by being confined to the cyclical nature of hitting the road with his two-wheeled stunt act, a chance encounter with an attractive blast from the past named Romina (Eva Mendes), is the ‘instigator’ to propel him into the next phase of his eclectic life.. parenthood. Emasculated by his inability to sufficiently provide for his one year old son, he resorts to the quick and inevitably illegal option of raiding local banks.
Conveniently leading us to the law abiding character of the piece Avery Cross, played by Silver Linings’ Bradley Cooper. Severely injured during a fierce altercation with an assailant, he soon becomes headline news. Ray Liotta’s forceful cop’s emphatic declaration of ‘You’re A Hero!’ may be left ringing in his ears, however he remains traumatised by the unfortunate incident. Interpreting this ‘near-miss’ as the ideal opportunity to tackle corruption within his own Police department and fulfil his career aspirations driven by politics, he’s immediately faced with a fair share of detractors.
Easily dismissed as indulgent and overreaching, yet absorbing and impeccable in its execution, ‘Pines’ sprawling narrative is a multi layered beast that most crime epics would be proud of. The film successfully marks Cianfrance’s progression into archetypal family dynamics, with the aspect of sons resembling their flawed fathers dominating proceedings. Yet for all its moral and structural ambiguities and undeniable ambition, the director retains the bruising beauty and intimacy of his predecessor. From the visual elevated mid-shot metaphors as our protagonists remain oblivious to ‘crashing’ into each other’s lives, coupled with the understated symmetry of how certain characters are framed. To a remarkable tracking shot carnival ‘opener’ that will leave many swooning over Gosling’s envious body and its sheer skill, his direction is beautifully assured.
Littered with tattoos and donning a sleeveless Metallica top, it’s clear from the outset Ryan Gosling isn’t shedding his effortlessly cool persona anytime soon. Cynics may deem his showing here a mild variation of previous on screen outings, yet his ‘exposed’ display as Luke Glanton could arguably be a career-best, epitomised in a memorable church segment. Solidifying his place as an a-lister with dramatic ‘chops’, Bradley Cooper builds on his much saluted Silver Linings performance with a tortured turn as the conflicted Avery. With the focus harnessed primarily on its male contingent, Eva Mendes’ Romina punctuates the film effectively with the moments shared with Gosling simmering with sincerity.
Peppered with the sounds of Springsteen and a bold, deliberately vague time-hopping final act that may prove too overwrought in some quarters, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is an emotionally harrowing yet captivating slice of American filmmaking confirming Cianfrance as a real force to be reckoned with.