I find it hard to imagine anyone willing to keep their artistic careers small. Audiences tend to be unforgiving, and expect what little work an artist produces to be representative of his/her talents. The legendary Impressionist painter, Henri Matisse, once said: “I was very embarrassed when my canvases began to fetch high prices. I saw myself condemned to a future of painting nothing but masterpieces.” Filmmakers are no different.
Derek Cianfrance is the writer and director of The Place Beyond the Pines, Brother Tied and Blue Valentine. Though he has made a handful of short films and documentaries, Cianfrance’s limited credentials force audiences to compare his latest movie with the well-received Blue Valentine, drawing both praise and disappointment.
The comparison is unfound, however, since the two movies only share an ambient resemblance. Blue Valentine is a romantic tragedy about a married couple in a troubled relationship. The film endlessly exchanges between its main characters, Cindy and Dean, neither condemning or justifying their choices. On the other hand, The Place Beyond the Pines is a melodramatic mess about two fathers trying to raise their respective son. The movie relies on impulsiveness and peer pressure to create conflict, ultimately creating an unsatisfying narrative. Though this may just be my biased opinion, The Place Beyond the Pines fails primarily because it is a drama without a theme. And a drama without a theme is like an action movie without any action.
Drama films require strong writing. Unlike action films, there are no special effects or choreography to entertain the audience; the movie is limited to its dialogue and themes. Imagine what Good Will Hunting would be like if Will Hunting didn’t have abandonment issues, or if American Beauty didn’t revolve its story around existential angst. Unlike other genres, drama cuts away the fat and presents a relatable story in its rawest form.
The Place Beyond the Pines has a few gunshots, two casualties, and no humor, taking place in a typical, uptown neighbourhood. I find it difficult to accept the film as anything other than an attempt at drama. Yet, Cianfrance assumes that the sum of the components is worth as much as the narrative’s core idea. Throw in a few crying scenes, a bit of guilt, and some tense situations, and The Place Beyond the Pines should be a great film, right?
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