Tag Archives: Derek Cianfrance

Baby Onboard

The Light Between Oceans

by George Wolf

Can stellar performances, skilled direction, pristine cinematography and an evocative score elevate a story built on weepy schmaltz?


The Light Between Oceans is definitely a melodramatic weeper, but one saved from outright embarrassment by the sheer force of the talent assembled to bring it to the screen. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) adapts M.L. Stedman’s best-selling novel with a determined earnestness and a rock solid cast.

Michael Fassbender is Tom, a WWI veteran haunted by memories of combat who takes a job as lighthouse keeper off the coast of Australia in 1918. Before heading back out to his post, a picnic with Isabel (Alicia Vikander) leads to multiple letters full of romantic longing between the two, and then to marriage. Years at the island lighthouse go by without an addition to the family, when suddenly an old rowboat washes ashore…with a crying baby inside.

The child obviously needs them, and no one will ever be the wiser, right?

Waves of guilt begin crashing at the baby’s christening, when Tom learns about Hannah (Rachel Weisz), a wealthy town resident who still grieves for the husband and child who were lost at sea.

The plot turns that follow seem born from a unholy union of Sparks and Dickens, as contrived circumstance begets impossible choice, painful sacrifice, and a search for absolution through that far, far better thing to do.

Cianfrance wraps it all in the majestic, windswept landscapes necessary to recall classic period romances, with sharp instincts for knowing when to let Alexandre Desplat’s music swell with power, and when to let silence fuel the sense of isolation.

Fassbender and Weisz are customarily nuanced and splendid, while Vikander is simply wonderful, making Isabel’s arc from youthful naivete to world-weary grief feel as authentic as material this emotionally manipulative possibly could.

The Light Between Oceans amounts to a two-hour struggle between talent and substance. One side brought the varsity squad.




Triple Feature For Your Queue

Usually Tuesday is the day we recommend a new DVD release, and pair that with a backlist title you might also enjoy. But since there are three excellent films being released today, we decided to just stick with new releases and highly recommend each of the following.

MudMatthew McConaughey continues to impress in writer/director Jeff Nichols’s follow up to the brilliant Take Shelter. McConaughey plays a romantic fugitive befriended by two young boys. It’s a lyrical, bittersweet coming of age tale and an astonishing piece of storytelling.

The Place Beyond the PinesDerek Cianfrance’s multigenerational story of fathers, sons, and unintended consequences a cast whose performances are even better than their looks. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes are all terrific in this twisty crime thriller.

To the WonderTerrence Malick returns to the screen with a cinematic poem to relationships, faith, isolation and love. Abstract, challenging, lyrical and gorgeous, Malick’s latest is a rumination on spiritual fulfillment.

Beyond the Pines Live Handsome Fathers and Sons

By Hope Madden

Sure, The Place Beyond the Pines is a bank robber movie starring three weirdly attractive A-listers (Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper). But this layered, complex film about men and the sins they pass on hopes to be a lot more than that.

What co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has crafted is a generational drama about fathers, sons and consequences.

The Place Beyond the Pines tells its story in three parts. Each part introduces us to a new, young male lead as he makes a life-altering decision. Their individual tales are aided immeasurably by great supporting turns from Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn (making a name for himself playing the guy our hero would be better off not knowing), but Cianfrance’s interest is in the young men – their choices, how they were affected by their fathers, and how they will affect their sons.

Act 1 follows Gosling’s stunt motorcyclist Luke as he tries to claim the family he didn’t know he had. We move to Cooper’s rookie cop in the second act, who walks the compromised line between justice and ambition. Act 3 brings us full circle.

Cianfrance’s lens casts a bittersweet small town spell, and his actors – an exceptional Gosling in particular – develop fully formed, flawed, compelling characters. The filmmaker’s smart script and patient camera give the talent the time and content they need to mine the depths of each character. Unfortunately, this borderline Greek tragedy just loses steam.

Whether Parts 2 and 3 feel like middling efforts because Gosling’s smolder is missing or because Cianfrance’s interest lies elsewhere is hard to tell. Taken on their own, the second and third acts amount to a solid family drama; compared with the livewire of Act 1, though, they let you down just a bit.

It feels like Cianfrance just bit off more than he could chew, but it’s hard to knock him for ambition. Pines veers as wildly as Handsome Luke’s motorcycle, and it doesn’t always find its way back. Cianfrance tries too hard, covers too much, but he does it with such passion and such cinematic skill that he can be forgiven.