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Before Derek Cianfrance made BLUE VALENTINE he was a documentary director of some repute, but still only the fairly small amount of repute that comes to even the most well-regarded documentarians. Post-BLUE VALENTINE, a heartfelt story about the blooming and withering of a romance between two ordinary people (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), he’s among the most feted new indie directors with a weight of expectation on whatever he might do next.
He’s not short on ambition for his follow-up, either, not least in casting two of Hollywood’s hottest actors in this tense crime thriller of tenacious cop (Bradley Cooper) versus good- time robber (Ryan Gosling).
Where BlUE VALENTINE was focused on just two people and the little disasters that destroyed them but meant nothing to the outside world, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES spins on a tiny moment, barely more than a second, which shatters numerous lives and wobbles many more. At the centre of it is ‘Handsome Luke’ (Gosling), a man who enjoys a very minor type of celebrity as a motorcyclist who rides around in a spherical cage at sideshows and gets the sort of adoration to make him think his life is going pretty well. That is until he runs into Ro (Eva Mendes), a fling who has long since been flung but comes back into his life with a child: Luke’s child.
In an effort to prove they can be a family, Luke turns to crime, robbing banks so that he will have the money to provide Ro and their son with the life they deserve. This questionable career choice brings Luke into contact with Avery (Cooper), a small-time cop with bigger dreams.
The ingredients are all those of a classic thriller – robbery, high-speed chases, double- crossing – but Cianfrance brings something deeper to this with his flair for truly beautiful, dreamlike visuals and atmospheric soundtrack choices, and his way of showing the drama that can unfold in the relationship between fathers and sons. He’s aided by a spectacular cast, in particular his leading male trio of Gosling, Cooper and Dane DeHaan, playing an isolated teen whose life is changed by the clash between Luke and Avery.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a film that starts deliberately small and then just keeps on growing into an epic tale that spans many years and multiple lives. It’s the work of a director still at the beginning of what promises to be a very exciting career indeed.
- Stephen Webster