Derek Cianfrance is an artist. The writer/director imposes a rare ambition that enables his lifelong passions to make it to the big screen. Cianfrance's sophomore effort (but first real major motion picture release), Blue Valentine, was a project 12 years in the making. However, the director used the film as a platform to make his mark as a visionary filmmaker set on exploring the deepest, and sometimes darkest, depths of humanity. And as we saw with Blue Valentine, Cianfrance is no sucker for a happy ending. Instead, when making an impressive feature such as his latest release, The Place Beyond the Pines, the director demonstrates immense loyalty to the most important people around him, his characters. For example, when Cianfrance was looking for a financier and pitching his film, he was told to trim down his lofty 158 page script to 120. How did he respond? Cianfrance widened the margins and shrunk the text, never deleting a single word. Loyalty.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a three-chapter story following a multitude of characters. First, there's the danger-seeking stunt motorcyclist named Luke Glanton (played by Ryan Gosling). Traveling from city to city as an entertainer, Glanton returns to Schenectady, NY for the first time in over a year only to discover that a one-night stand has turned him into an absentee father. Desperate to offer support and remain in his child's life, Luke uses his unique set of skills to execute a few bank robberies in an attempt to provide for his son. Next up is the ambitious and youthful newbie police officer, Avery Cross (played by Bradley Cooper), whose world changes after he thwarts one of Glanton's robberies. However, these men's decisions have long-lasting effects on their children and loved ones, proving that life is never as black and white as it seems.
Embodied by the impressive prolonged and uncut scene which begins the movie, The Place Beyond the Pines is a lengthy, but engrossing, effort from mastermind Derek Cianfrance. The writer/director delivers a grand story filled with harrowing subplots and sincere themes. And although the film fails to unravel with the smoothest of rides, The Place Beyond the Pines becomes a shining example of an entire feature being greater than the sum of its parts. Broken down and dissected on a microscopic level, Cianfrance's latest work is faulty and imperfect. On the other hand, The Place Beyond the Pines measures up as a carefully-calculated piece of filmmaking that survives on sheer sincerity and realism. Like each and every one of us, Cianfrance's characters are flawed human beings who face difficult choices in life. But no matter their intent, the consequences live on and effect everyone around them. The Place Beyond the Pines explores generational burdens with a brutal honesty and integrity that Cianfrance has clearly mastered in his brief career.
Despite the film's grand intent, The Place Beyond the Pines is far from unblemished. Operating as a slow-churning three chapter story, each progressing chapter end up weaker than the last. Therefore, the feature begins with a solid hook revolving around Gosling's affable character, but then it undoubtedly loses its flare as the running time begins to stockpile. Yet, to its benefit, Cianfrance generates a suspenseful conclusion that can end in only one of two ways. Perhaps the beauty of The Place Beyond the Pines is the fact that either ending would make for a fitting resolve to the story (although they'd be completely different in mood and purpose).
Derek Cianfrance has made his mark as a risk taker, all of which have paid off extremely well. Unfortunately, over the years, Hollywood has begun to rid itself of such filmmakers. Living in fear of financial repercussions and a lack of an artistic-appreciative audience that flocks to movie theatres nowadays, directors like Cianfrance are finding it difficult to make purposeful films. The Place Beyond the Pines is a challenging movie that's wonderfully shot and wonderfully acted. Despite all of its shortcomings, it deserves to be lauded for its underlying themes of cause and effect as well as forgiveness. Far from the watered-down and superficial fluff that finds its way across screens all over America, The Place Beyond the Pines is a welcoming return to the art-form of storytelling.