The Films of Derek Cianfrance
Blue Valentine (May 11/11)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine charts the evolution of one couple's relationship from its meet-cute beginnings through to its crumbling state years later. Cianfrance, working from a script cowritten with Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis, has infused Blue Valentine with a down-and-dirty visual sensibility that effectively (and instantly) establishes an atmosphere of gritty realism, with the authentic vibe heightened by the spellbinding performances from the film's two stars - as Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams become their respective characters to a degree that's nothing short of hypnotic. The time-shifting structure proves instrumental in highlighting the dramatic change in Dean (Gosling) and Cindy's (Williams) bond, as the palpable chemistry between the couple eventually gives way to a relationship based on arguments and mistrust. And as charming and engaging the scenes set in the past are, Blue Valentine begins to fall apart as it emphasizes Dean and Cindy's present-day exploits - as Gosling's Dean morphs from a likeable free-spirit into a scuzzy, downright reprehensible alcoholic who bears few similarities to his earlier incarnation. It does, as a result, become increasingly difficult to work up any interest in or sympathy for the characters' disintegrating relationship, with the progressive emphasis on Dean and Cindy's relentless bickering ensuring that the movie, in its latter half, adopts a vibe of serious monotony. Blue Valentine is, in the end, saved by its sporadically engrossing atmosphere and career-best work from its stars, with the film's unevenness ultimately preventing it from packing the emotional punch that Cianfrance is clearly going for.
The Place Beyond the Pines
With The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance definitively establishes himself as an up-and-coming filmmaker with serious potential - as the movie, which tells an epic story involving multiple characters, boasts a cinematic and engrossing atmosphere that's a palpable step up from his previous effort, 2010's Blue Valentine. Cianfrance, working from a script cowritten with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, does a superb job of immediately grabbing the viewer's attention, with the film's opening shot, a long, unbroken take that follows Ryan Gosling's Luke as he walks through a busy carnival and hops aboard a motorcycle, getting things off to an impressively electrifying start and effectively establishing a lush, sumptuous tone that persists virtually from start to finish. It's clear, also, that The Place Beyond the Pines' early success is due in large part to Gosling's typically commanding performance, with the actor's mesmerizing work, unfortunately, ensuring that the film does suffer when his character is offscreen - which ultimately makes it awfully difficult for Gosling's costar, Bradley Cooper, to maintain a similar intensity within his own stretch of the proceedings. (Likewise, the movie's final third fares even more poorly, as the emphasis is placed on a pair of entirely new characters.) Cianfrance's ambitious narrative is, as a result, perhaps not quite as affecting as the filmmaker has intended, yet it's impossible to deny the power of several key sequences - including a handful of astonishingly gripping bank-robbery interludes. The end result is an uneven yet impressive effort from Cianfrance that surely bodes well for his future endeavors, and it should certainly be interesting to see where the talented filmmaker goes from here.