All trumped up and ready to go, Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to Blue Valentine is the exact opposite of his debut film. It was all preparation, deep consideration, a film that reached into its characters' pasts as deep as it could; The Place Beyond the Pines derives its sense of depth and drama from its embellishments, from its impressive but uninspired and often intrusive musical score to its moody cinematography and its pretentious triptych structure. Cianfrance stages his film like an opera in three acts, or a novel, using familiar scenarios and set-ups which he can set off balance in post-production (the score is a major player in The Place Beyond the Pines, and often sounds as though it's there to imbue an element of interest to otherwise inert material), and tethering them together, cliche to cliche, with a misplaced air of profundity. In wobbly close-ups of sweaty male visages and long, anguished pauses, Cianfrance shoots to expose the soul of the American male, but his intentions and his methods are shallow, and his entire concept so banal in all its many aspects that he gets almost nowhere, and winds up circling around the same old points again and again, drumming into his audience a belief that there must be some greater meaning to all of this. Just as his grand romantic ambition and his dedication to vapid realism clash uneasily, his portrait of Ryan Gosling's character is flawed - Cianfrance's lens fawns on Gosling, practically beatifying his winsome features, as he simultaneously tries to paint him as a reckless criminal, a callous antihero. It's a muddled portrait of a character created for one purpose and largely utilised for another, and although Gosling's gift may be to suggest a mind full of melancholy behind those wistful eyes, there's a badness to this man that Cianfrance never lets him explore. The second two parts of this film, which focus elsewhere, are more clear about their intentions, and more narratively conventional. They offer disturbing and thrilling developments, and good performances across the board, although an eventual descent into melodrama and a reliance on coincidence throughout prevent The Place Beyond the Pines from ever quite allowing the viewer to relax into this film.