Place Beyond the Pines opened in New York and LA last Friday, and hits a handful more cities today. In a rare coup for a site that specializes in Photoshopping cats into things, I got to sit down with Pines director Derek Cianfrance, previously of Blue Valentine, on the eve of his film’s release, in the rare post that actually required me putting on pants (oh, but I’m not bitter). Before we go any further I might as well answer the question that’s probably on all of your minds: yes, according to Cianfrance, Ryan Gosling is every bit the sweet prince you imagine, and presumably a wonderful cuddler. Cianfrance’s exact words: “I like working with him because he’s magic. He makes magic happen. …He’s just the best.”
As for Cianfrance himself, the first thing you notice about him is the fact that he has “AMIGO” tattooed on the segments of his right knuckles. The second thing you notice about him is his voice: a vowely, a-regional, vaguely hepcattish… well, it’s not quite a drawl, but the words have a similarly syrupy way of sliding into one another. Where have I heard this before? Then it dawns on you: Ryan Gosling. He has the same voice as Baby Goose. It doesn’t seem to be a case of actor-impersonating-director, a phenomenon of nearly every movie Woody Allen has directed starring a Woody Allen proxy. It seems like something more subtle, more organic, a simple case of like attracts like, amplified by two guys having spent a lot of time together (the set of Blue Valentine having been infamously claustrophobic). Or, to hear Cianfrance tell it, it’s more of a cosmic connection. Cianfrance is all about those cosmic connections, frequently speaking of magic and using phrases like “brother from another mother.” Yes, he’s grandiose. Almost all directors and fiction writers I’ve met are. It requires a certain grandiosity to remake the world as you want to see it, down to specific details of the way you think things should be. And Place Beyond the Pines is nothing if not a grandiose movie. Regardless of what you think of it – I was simultaneously inspired by its ambition and slightly put off by its content – you have to be impressed with anyone that could even get it made. It’s less a bank robber movie than an attempt at an epic novel, the kind of movie that isn’t supposed to exist anymore. It obviously required someone leading the charge who thinks and talks big, and Derek Cianfrance certainly seemed to be that.
I didn’t get a chance to ask him about his knuckle tats or how he came to cast the child actor named “Anthony Angelo Pizza Jr,” (a criminal oversight on my part, I can admit that now). But he had plenty of other interesting stories, including Ben Mendolsohn showing up to his audition wearing a hospital bracelet, and his claim that he and Ryan Gosling actually came up with the same concept for a bank robber movie separately, without either knowing the other was working on it. I don’t buy it, but you be the judge.