TORONTO -- Ryan Gosling’s character lacks for affection in “The Place Beyond The Pines,” his new movie that has him as an outlaw-ish bank robber with few human connections.
The actor himself is a different story. Even by Goslingian standards -- en masse squealing, constant camera flashes, earnest declarations from total strangers in front of other total strangers about how sexy they find him -- the crowd went over the top for “Pines,” in which Gosling reunites with his “Blue Valentine” director, Derek Cianfrance, for a nearly 2 1/2-hour drama, when the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday night.
So over the top that sometime between a woman standing up and describing her love for Gosling’s tattoos in the film and another woman approaching the stage and handing him some kind of youth hockey outfit in a sort of modern-day version of a ritual sacrifice, even the actor looked bemused.
“That’s just not appropriate,” he said, smiling slightly to one such explicit profession of undying love.
All the swooning came despite what is actually Gosling’s circumscribed role in the film. He appears only in its first third (to reveal why would be to spoil one of the film’s pleasures), with the remaining screen time going to Bradley Cooper and several young up-and-comers, as well as Gosling’s real-life and on-screen paramour, Eva Mendes. It’s not that they all have supporting roles, exactly, more like lead roles in a series of featurettes.
“Pines” is a symphony in three parts, in which one main character hands off the story to the other, as though in a more linear “Babel.” (Cianfrance said he was influenced by “Psycho,” with its transition from Janet Leigh to Tony Perkins as its central character.)
Without spoiling the plot, we’ll say that the film is about a bank robber named Luke (Gosling), the girlfriend and baby mama he wants to provide for (Mendes), an idealistic (sort of) cop Luke comes in contact with (Cooper) and, eventually, even their children. It’s an intimate family story told on an epic scale, and somehow it seems fitting that it premiered the same day as the Salman Rushdie adaptation “Midnight’s Children,” also a big-canvas-but-minute-human-detail sort of story.
Cianfrance spent five years working on “Pines,” starting even before he shot “Blue Valentine.” As he put it, he was interested in the idea of “legacy.” Much of the movie poses the question of how much we’re destined to repeat the sins of our fathers, and to what extent we or our fathers can change that. In talking about his creative motivation, Cianfrance described a destructive “fire” he feels he and his forebears were born with and his fears of passing that along to his sons (more from Cianfrance later in the festival).
The film was one of the most anticipated here in Toronto, because of its actor pedigree, the fact that it had not played any other late-summer festival and, maybe most critically, it does not yet have U.S. distribution.
After seeing it, one can easily imagine it landing a prominent home, but it’s not necessarily clear which type. The campaign for the movie could be built either more commercially, around the genre-based set pieces, or as an awards play, around the performances. If someone went the latter route, Gosling would certainly merit attention, playing a taciturn outsider with his own sense of justice a la his lead character in “Drive” last year.
The actor stayed quiet during most of the post-screening Q&A; session but then opened up when describing an unlikely obsession. “It’s always been a fantasy of mine to rob a bank, but I’m scared of jail,” he said. “But in my mind I rob them all the time, especially when I’m there.” On this night, he pretty much could have asked the crowd to hand over their money and they still would have cheered wildly.