His last feature, the uncompromising Blue Valentine, took the best part of ten years to shape and shoot, requiring an enormous commitment from its leads Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. The last two years has seen a centrifugal shift for Gosling, who has received such mammoth acclaim that it was announced at the end of March that he would be stepping away from the acting scene for the foreseeable.
He returns however for a second collaboration with Cianfrance as the elusive Luke, a protagonist brutish in build and honest in nature. From the opening scenes Luke is thrust into the very foreground of the narrative. Semi-naked bar a wealth of tattoos and flicking a knife back and forth in silent anguish, Gosling is pawing at familiar ground as he communicates primarily through those crooked, now signature eyes and we follow his cutthroat career as a motorcycle stuntman.
He is a compelling character to observe. Upon learning that he has a son with fleeting lover Romina (Eva Mendes), Luke bows out of his travelling profession to stick around and support his son. Aided by accomplice Robin (Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly’s Ben Mendelsohn) Luke turns over small banks, using his well-rehearsed speed to steer clear of the feds. It’s their partnership that brings the film’s sparse humour as a pair of tender crooks. “Never since Hall and Oates has there been such a team,” remarks an unbearably sweet Gosling to his friend.
The shine comes off when a heist goes foul, sending the narrative hurtling into the next of a near page-turning set of chapters. With it comes Bradley Cooper as Avery, a hard working cop faced with a bleak series of decisions and a similar family unit to provide for. Cooper’s performance proves the most interesting as he conveys a desperate man with ease, securing him a solid place among the industry’s most anticipated leading males today.
It’s the sheer magnitude of these performances that make The Place Beyond the Pines such a striking cinematic occurrence. Eva Mendes simmers in one of her most compelling performances to date, Rose Byrne strains persuasively as the distraught policemen’s wife and Ray Liotta is horrendous as a truly nasty piece of work embedded in Avery’s squad. Not to be outdone by their peers, Emory Cohen and Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan are near-hypnotic as the younger generation, fleshing out the turbulent consequences of their father’s choices.
Colliding his protagonists effortlessly, Cianfrance switches from tense, shaky pursuits to tenacious close-ups to sombre landscapes with an unfaltering eye. The meaty running time is long forgiven by the closing credits, which are incidentally beautiful, and although the motives and messages addressed aren’t groundbreaking, such is the mesmerising and thoughtful use of actors that nothing else matters. The Place Beyond The Pines is a thoroughly impressive piece ofcinema from an understated director.