By Mark Saldana 

Rating 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Derek Cianfrance really is an exceptional film writer and director.  His romantic tragedy Blue Valentine broke the hearts of film audiences and earned the acclaim of critics in 2010.  He has such wonderful grasp of human relationships and the consequences of our behavior and actions.  While watching a Derek Cianfrance film, people can easily forget that they’re watching fictional characters on the screen and experience their true to life drama as if they are real people they know. That is the real sign of a master writer and filmmaker. Cianfrance makes the movie screen his window into the lives of his characters.

His latest film, The Place Beyond the Pines exemplifies his talents wonderfully. Cianfrance presents a three chapter study on the lives of two very different families in Schenectady, New York.  A drifting motorcycle stunt rider, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) arrives to town with his traveling carnival.  After one of his shows, former lover Romina (Eva Mendes) pays him a visit.  While in town, he learns that Romina’s baby Jason is actually his son.  Upon learning this, Luke decides to quit his job and remain in town to help raise his child.  Unable to find a decent paying job, he turns to robbing banks in an attempt to give his son the life he never had.  When a botched robbery lands him in the path of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) their lives and futures are forever changed.

Cianfrance, who co-wrote the film with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, once again enthralls and engages his audience with a fictional tale which could have honestly been the true story of any assortment of real people.  His portrait of the families in Schenectady examines the lives of parents and how their decisions and mistakes impact the lives of their children.  Though the three chapters focus on the parents and the children, Cianfrance’s stories contain multiple layers which make his characters more dimensional and fully realized.  These characters are flesh and blood and they cannot be labeled as either bad or good.  These people have flaws, make mistakes and have to live with their issues and the consequences of their actions.  That’s what Cianfrance does best. He presents genuine true to life character studies with which audiences can empathize and relate.

Of course, he cannot pull this off completely without an extraordinary cast, which is exactly what he has here.  Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, and Dane DeHaan all perform astoundingly.  It might be way to early to make any predictions for acting accolades, but if the Globes and Oscar nominations had been around the corner, some of these names, particularly Gosling, Cooper, Mendes and DeHaan, would have probably made some nomination lists.

I also feel that this film, along with the director and his co-writers would receive nominations for their work as well.  So far, this may be the best film I have seen this year. It truly is an engaging, sometimes heartbreaking, always exceptional piece of work.  This film, unfortunately, may fly below people’s radars, but really deserves big box office money. I cannot wait to see what Derek Cianfrance does next.

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