TIFF 2012: Cianfrance's 'The Place Beyond the Pines' is Mesmerizing
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2012
Karma. Fate. Sheer luck. Violence begets violence. These are some of the bigger themes touched upon in The Place Beyond the Pines, the latest film from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. Going in to the world premiere screening at TIFF 2012, I had no idea what we were going to get, besides a blonde-haired Ryan Gosling playing a motorcycle stunt driver. Where would it go from there? What's the actual story? Where does it all lead? Cianfrance tells a massive, generational story that spans beyond just Gosling into the lives of two families from the small town of Schenectady in upstate New York. And it's mesmerizing.
Mesmerizing for many reasons. Place Beyond the Pines is actually three different stories (essentially almost three short films) combined into one epic film, showing pieces of these different families, eventually culminating in a timeline set 15 years ahead (in present day) focusing on the generational effects of decisions made. If that description isn't already making you think about what this addresses, just wait until you actually get into it. Cianfrance is one of the most adept directors on the rise right now, and it shows in the way he's able to understand the subtleties and generation-spanning impacts of decisions made. I heard a couple of comparison to The Godfather being tossed around afterwards, and they're honestly not far off.
There are a couple of story twists and turns that, for the sake of your own experience, I can't ruin here and won't detail. Yes, Ryan Gosling is in The Place Beyond the Pines, and plays a very pivotal role, but so does Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes. Cianfrance pushes them to give incredible performances I've never seen from either of them before. And later on, young up-and-coming actors Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) and Emory Cohen ("Smash") take things to new heights, playing the "next generation" and really embodying every last aspect of the characters they're playing. The performances really stand out (in a good way) in this.
Besides being gorgeously shot (by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt), the film has a very eerie, foreboding score used almost entirely throughout the film. Not just during important scenes or climatic moments, but throughout, during almost every lingering crane shot and even the more intense moments. But it's not overbearing, and it adds something to this that I think I haven't even begun to realize even after sleeping on it. Most of the score is this angelic, choir-sung melody, the rest of it was just a low noise that sometimes built into something amazing. I can't take it off my mind, and I think it may have been that score that he was using to bring all of the three different pieces of this together in the end - to emphasize their connection.
However, the thing is, by the end I wasn't sure what to think. The Place Beyond the Pines left me drained, emotionally drained, but I believe that's what Cianfrance does so well, as odd as that seems. It might not be a good thing for everyone seeing films, but I think it really means something that he takes us on a cinematic journey that grabs whatever is inside of you and rips it out and says, look at this world we live in, look at how our decisions and tragedy affect more than just the people directly involved. Maybe, weeks, months later, we'll think back to these themes, and think about every decision we are making, trying to understand their impact. That's what Cianfrance gets into with Pines, and it's very mesmerizing but draining to watch.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 8 out of 10 (Note: upgraded from a 7.5.)