The Place Beyond the Pines, writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to 2010’s lacerating Blue Valentine, stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in a tragic tale of cops and robbers with consequences that span generations. The filmmaker sat down with PW to talk about kids, violence and Ray Liotta.
PW: Both of your films have such a vivid sense of lived-in, blue-collar grit. It’s a milieu we don’t often see portrayed convincingly onscreen.
There’s a prevalence of perfection in Hollywood movies. You have perfect-looking people who have game-show-host teeth. I go to movies, and often times I wonder, where do I fit in? These are gods up on the screen; where are the people I know?
Is that why you tend to fill out smaller roles with non-actors?
I’m always trying to find the collision between real life and fantasy. I’m always trying to take actors and drop them into this aquarium of life and see how they swim. There are real cops in this movie alongside Bradley Cooper. There are real retired judges up there on the stand because I feel like I can’t teach somebody how to be a judge; they can teach me. I come from a documentary background, so I look to the real world to inform my movies.
The violence here is certainly treated with a real-world severity.
Having kids has really changed my perception of violence in movies. I started having an allergic reaction to the kind of “cool” violence that I’d see on the screen ... It’s not beautiful to me. It’s not cool. I don’t like the fetish of it. If I was gonna put a gun in a film, I wanted it to have an impact. There are only three shots fired in this movie, and I wanted them to have real narrative consequences.
Is Ray Liotta as terrifying off camera as he is onscreen?
I feel like Ray Liotta is a national treasure. Someday they’ll carve his face into a mountaintop. He’s a beautiful, gentle, amazing soul, but he’s got a real edge to him. Ray is like a human knife. If he was in this room, our center would be off. I invited him over for dinner, introduced him to my family, and within 30 seconds, my 4-year-old was crying. I thought, Man, I can’t wait to see what he does to Bradley Cooper!