'The Place Beyond the Pines' (2013) Movie Review

Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines
Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines
Photo: Sierra Affinity
NOTE: This review was first published on September 8, 2012 after I saw the movie at the Toronto Film Festival. I am reprinting it today as it opens in theaters this weekend.

The Place Beyond the Pines leaves you tired and worn weary by as it revels in despair with no hope at the end of the tunnel. It's raw, real, downtrodden and forced. Is it good? It's solid. It's also too much of a "bad" thing.

The Place Beyond the Pines
Grade: B

The Place Beyond the Pines"The Place Beyond the Pines" is a Focus Features release, directed by Derek Cianfrance and is rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.

The cast includes Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn and Emory Cohen.

This is a drama that weighs on you like a ton of bricks as generations are affected by those before them -- the things they know; the things they don't know and what they'll soon learn. Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance exhibits his talent to tackle a sweeping narrative that runs all of two hours and 20 minutes, and the film's length is felt as a result of the weary state it leaves you in by the end.

The story begins in the late 1990s, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt motorcyclist for a traveling carnival. During a stop in Schenectady, New York we learn of a one night encounter he had with a local waitress named Romina (Eva Mendes). Seeing her again for the first time since, they exchange words and he drives her home, but with the carnival heading out of town he can't stay for long. He leaves.

A little over a year later, back in town, Luke learns Romina has had a child and is living with her mother and another man (Mahershala Ali). The child is Luke's, and despite what appears to be a lack of want for his company, he quits his job and takes up a low-paying mechanic position locally in an attempt to reconnect and raise his child. Volatility ensues.

Cash-strapped, Luke turns to robbing local banks for money, but his crimes soon catch up to him as his path becomes entwined with a local cop (Bradley Cooper) and a brief moment of violence shapes the next 15 years of their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Cianfrance, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, examines the effects one generation can have on the other and the results of a child's neglected upbringing with an unflinching eye. This is the film's over-arching theme, and it's as a result of this theme the film is so punishing, because Cianfrance doesn't lighten the mood with glossy Hollywood techniques that would make it far more accessible, but would also diminish its dramatic impact.

It's always tough for me to come to a definitive conclusion on how I feel about a film when it leaves me walking away feeling numb. It's one of the reasons grading movies is so meaningless. I wouldn't want to watch this film again. To feel how I felt watching it would be pointless to repeat. There are no happy endings in The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a smile, outside of a folded picture that continues to show its face throughout, constantly reminding us of the film's singular best moment.

The narrative breeds corruption, in more ways than one, making it both disheartening and painful to watch. Some of this can be attributed to a screenplay that has a hard time finding any measure of hope or optimism, all leading to a finale that really doesn't add up to much at all. Where the film does succeed, once you accept its narrative, is in the performances that hold it together.

Gosling continues on his streak of powerful performances as Luke attempts to fight the beast within and do the right thing, but the struggle is simply too much as he takes on more than his life experience can handle. Cooper is decent in a performance that largely ties together the film's three act structure, bridging the gap from one to the next, serving as a narrative glue. Gosling, as would be expected, is the standout while Cooper is workmanlike.

Strong supporting performances also work to the film's benefit. Ben Mendelsohn, who is having a solid year already with his wonderful contributions to Killing Them Softly, plays the man that may be Luke's only friend. Dane DeHaan, who is best known currently as the lead actor in Chronicle, shows his career won't be limited to the second-rate, low-budget superpower genre, and Bruce Greenwood gives a very strong performance as District Attorney, Bill Killcullen.

Sean Bobbit, who put in strong camera work in Steve McQueen's Shame and Hunger, delivers yet again with a gritty and intense bit of cinematography and strong camera movements in tight spaces including an especially intense scene following Luke as he speeds through the trees. Bobbit gives the small town of Schenectady a life of its own, as well as the people living in it.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a case of a tough, but predictable narrative. I wasn't the fan of Blue Valentine so many others were, but it did showcase Cianfrance's ability to not only bring the best out of his actors, but to tackle tough subject matter and deliver a raw sense of reality. He does that again here, but, like Blue Valentine, I'm having a hard time giving the film a wholehearted endorsement.

The exploration of tragic lives in tragic environments is one thing, but to wallow in it as Cianfrance seems to enjoy doing is tough to swallow and what exactly he's trying to accomplish here isn't entirely clear, and the generational thread he's pushing can only be tugged on for so long before the quilt it holds together is withered and frayed.


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  • Ed

    Can't wait to see this one.

    Hope Ryan Gosling gets his second Oscar nod for this one (he looks outstanding in The Place Beyond the Pines' trailer). He's just overdue for a 2nd Oscar nomination...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jake17/ Jake17

    This is not playing near me yet, but when it does I'm definitely seeing it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    this bad boy is on the list

  • dslacker

    Looking forward to this one as well - not that it will ever make it to this backward area of southern New Mexico. Looking forward to the video release.....

  • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

    This will actually be playing at an independent theater near me next week. Should hopefully get to see it then.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    After Side Effects, this is the first major release of the year for me (I've had it at No. 5 on my most anticipated list). Seeing it on April 12th. Definitely excited.

  • Zhash Johnson

    I'm dying to see this movieand have been since I first saw the trailer. It looks thought-provoking and very well-acted.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    I finally saw this film yesterday. I have been waiting for almost a month to read this review. It seems that not many commented on it either, Brad. Not sure why though.
    After reading your review, I have a hard time understanding why you gave it a B. You seemed more down on it than that grade represents to me. I would give it a B as well.
    But for slightly different reasons. I actually left thinking how I wanted to watch it again when it comes to dvd. I dont like depressing films and this one didnt strike me as such by the end. It was a fascinating sort of figure eight type of story line that seemed a bit like Karma one hand and nature vs nurture on the other. Like somehow the sins of the father's are passed down the generational chain. The story was hard but I didn't find it heavy.
    I agree on the acting comments you made. And being of the female persuasion find it very difficult to find fault with Gosling!! Cooper was fine, but not great. I thought Jason was well acted by Dane DeHaan.
    Any way, thats my take. I appreciate getting to read your reviews. Now that some decent films are on their way I hope to not have to wait months before reading them!!