Derek Cianfrance asks something of his audience. The director’s 2010 debut feature Blue Valentine made viewers witness the blooming of a beautiful love affair while simultaneously bearing its frustrated implosion six years later. With his new film The Place Beyond the Pines, which opens in the Boston area on April 5, Cianfrance expects just as much patience.
Pines spans an even longer time than Blue. But rather than hopping back and forth between eras, it takes you along a languid, generation-spanning study of legacy. Motorcycle driver Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling, who also starred in Blue Valentine) turns to bank robbery to support the young son he’s just discovered he has. He soon finds himself confronted with young cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The film follows the consequences of their encounter as it influences both men’s families and their futures.
The most obvious challenge Cianfrance presents is the film’s triptych structure: it has three distinct, completely chronological parts that focus, in order, on Glanton, then Cross, and then their sons. Each piece directly feeds into and informs the next. In a round table interview with the Beacon and other outlets, Cianfrance said he consciously avoided flashbacks—a distinctive element of Blue Valentine—because he wanted the audience, not just the characters, to cope with the consequences of the narrative.
In particular, he said, he is bothered by the glamorization of violence in television and film and wanted to write a movie where a violent act actually affects the movie.
Cianfrance trusts the viewers to ride with the characters' sprawling journey—with three story arcs that could all constitute their own films packed into 140 minutes, the movie demands endurance and appreciation for the slowly weaved tension. And the tension does build: The movie is undeniably a thriller—a crime thriller, a cop thriller, and always a psychological thriller. You're constantly forced into strained moments in these people's lives, something Cianfrance said he has always liked to capture.
"I never understood why we had all these pictures of us smiling. Ever since I was kid I never liked to smile in pictures. So I would take pictures of people fighting," he said in response to a question after a pre-release screening of the film in Boston.
Capturing this kind of moment, he said, requires spending time with the characters. When asked to cut the 158-page script down, he found himself at a loss.
"I couldn't figure out how to it so I found the shrink font button," Cianfrance said. He lamented that after filming, he didn't have a shrink font button in the editing room—spending time with the characters means spending a long time shooting the actors, too.
The method affected his players, though: Pines actually filmed before Bradley Cooper's Oscar-nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook, and after the aforementioned screening of the film, Cooper expressed how he channeled Cianfrance's approach into his Silver Linings character.
"Derek opened me up," Cooper said. "I know that I couldn't have done [Silver Linings Playbook] movie if I hadn't done this movie."