The Place Beyond the Pines-attachment0

The Place Beyond the Pines

Movie Information

The Story: Three stories — involving a dirt-bike-riding bank robber, a small-town cop and their respective sons — intersect. The Lowdown: An often flawed, overlong drama that remains worthy of attention because of its humanely drawn characters and sheer ambition.
Genre: Drama
Director: Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn
Rated: R

While I’ll shy far away from bestowing greatness on Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, I will say that, so far, it’s lingered in my mind like no other film this year, including both Chan-wook Park’s Stoker and Danny Boyle’s Trance, two films that — in many respects — are nearly perfect exercises in filmmaking. Unlike those movies, Cianfrance’s film is messy and unwieldy. But it’s filled with such ambition that it’s imposssible to ignore. In his novel, 2666, Roberto Bolano wrote on the topic of grand, ungainly books that he described as “great, imperfect, torrential works…that blaze paths into the unknown.” That’s what this is in film terms. In a world where cinematic mediocrity is the norm, the very fact that Cianfrance has the fervor to shoot for this kind of greatness is remarkable in itself. And while he eventually falls short we still get a movie with a gentle humanity and a quiet cumulative power that demands attention simply for never being afraid to fail.

Cianfrance is aiming to create a grand dramatic epic that’s almost literary in nature — like an adaptation of some proverbial Great American novel. The film is broken up into three distinct acts; the first follows Luke (Ryan Gosling), a trashy, quick-tempered, tattooed dirt-bike stunt rider who rides motorcycles for a traveling carnival. During a stop in Schenectady (the name of which means “beyond the pines” in the Mohawk language), he runs into Romina (Eva Mendes), a woman he had a fling with a year before, and eventually discovers she’s given birth to his son whom he didn’t know existed. Having grown up without a father himself, Luke wants to avoid that experience befalling his own son and decides to stick around. But with no money, no prospects and no means of supporting Romina and Jason, he starts robbing banks with the help of his auto mechanic employer and out-of-nowhere benefactor, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly). The film is little more than a crime drama until we get to its second part involving Avery (Bradley Cooper), the Schenectady cop from a rich background who brings down Luke. Avery is generally noble, but when he makes choices (that are sometimes mistakes), they put him at odds with other officers. These decisions even endanger his way of life.

The first two parts of The Place Beyond the Pines are developed with heart and humanity, detailing the two very different men. One comes from poverty, the other from affluence, one is a criminal, the other searches for justice. But both are inevitably ruled by their mistakes. Their actions come from the best of intentions, but both men are endangered by their ignorance and understandable feelings of love, guilt and hubris. Cianfrance’s greatest strength lies in making the characters realistic through their fragility. The ultimate price of their foibles and failings — Luke’s crimes and consequences he faces for them, and the ramifications of Avery’s decisions — play out 15 years later in their sons Jason (Dane DeHaan, Lawless) and AJ (TV actor Emory Cohen), whose stories make up the final act. Unfortunately, many of The Place Beyond the Pines’ problems sprout up in this final part, as it pushes the runtime — creeping up to 140 minutes — into the realm of overlong, and occasionally melodramatic. Additionally, the character of AJ — whose faults lie in a mean-spirited and ugly worldview — doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the film (or with his father). 

Despite the feeling I had during the entire third section’s seemingly superfluous nature, I now realize it is essential. Cianfrance’s most emotionally resonant scenes occur when Jason attempts to learn about the father he never knew. These scenes are executed in small touches with a welcomely deft hand. Jason’s encounter with his father’s old partner in crime, Robin, reveals a man who, years later, hides his guilt and reverence — or maybe even secret love — for Luke. The small moment when Jason finds an old photograph in an unlikely place — and what its discovery conveys — makes up for much clumsiness elsewhere in the way it illuminates the past. That these occasions are buried inside the film’s most glaring missteps is at first disappointing, and then fascinating, as you realize the shrewd way the movie’s emotional impact has overtaken you. By being both wide in scope and intimate in its concerns, The Place Beyond the Pines is a film that deserves your attention in spite of its faults. Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.

Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas and Fine Arts Theatre


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29 thoughts on “The Place Beyond the Pines

  1. Xanadon't

    This movie was almost biblical — or at least 19th century Russian — in proportions. Definitely feels like a film that in many ways plays better in post-viewing consideration than during the actual viewing experience.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I have a suspicion that it plays better on a second viewing, too.

  3. Big Al

    “This movie was almost biblical — or at least 19th century Russian — in proportions..”

    In length, I strongly agree. My butt still hurts from the 2 hr 20 min. run time. With just a little bit of editing of some of the extraneously longer scenes, his story could have been told just as well in under 2 hours.

  4. Xanadon't

    I don’t know that the actual length was a real problem for me in this case. Though it is structured in a manner that maybe makes it feel longer than it is. I do remember thinking to myself, “Oh that’s right, Bradley Cooper is in this.” There are a number of themes to unpack and I think they more or less justify the 140 minute run.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I am a terrific proponent of the idea that anything that can’t be told in one sitting, and told in two hours or under is doing something wrong. But there are exceptions and I think this is one of them. The idea that you could tell the same story in under two hours is probably quite true — just like Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare will synopsize the plays for you — but it won’t be the same thing. There’s more to a film than the mere plot. At least there ought to be.

  6. Edwin Arnaudin

    During the third act, I had a feeling that there’d been a misprint and that this was actually a 240 minute film. What kept me going was trusting that since the other two acts had strong payoffs, the last one would, too. It all worked out.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I grant you the third section could have been improved on — starting with the casting of Cooper’s son — there’s really not much of a movie without it. It actually helps expand on the Gosling and Cooper chracters — and their worlds — as much for the viewer as for Gosling’s son.

  8. Edwin Arnaudin

    The way in which the characters’ years of pain come to a head in the final act is pretty extraordinary.

    I don’t consider noticing the runtime as a knock against the film. Few over 2 hours feel brisk. I think it was the nature of the subject matter that weighed on me…that and Pines being my fourth film of the day.

    It’s still my favorite film of the year so far, followed by John Dies at the End, Side Effects and Stoker.

  9. Big Al

    I am not knocking the runtime per se, but there were just far too many slow, drawn-out quiet segments that seemed meant to create a serene, dark mood of reflection which I felt was not neccessary. I would be willing to bet that you could edit 20 minutes of these moments out of the film and no one would miss them, not even those who saw it before editing.

    I am glad I saw it, but it will not make my best 10 list for 2013.

  10. Xanadon't

    It if were to remain on my top 10, I don’t think I would consider 2013 a particularly strong year for movies.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I would be willing to bet that you could edit 20 minutes of these moments out of the film and no one would miss them, not even those who saw it before editing.

    I would need to see what those 20 minutes would be.

  12. Ken Hanke

    It if were to remain on my top 10, I don’t think I would consider 2013 a particularly strong year for movies.

    Top half of the list, maybe not. Bottom half, maybe.

  13. Big Al

    2013 is dismal so far. I have yet to see Trance and have high hopes, but the year is already 1/3 over, and my top 10 list has ONE movie on it (and it ain’t this one).

  14. Xanadon't

    I’m not ready to declare it dismal since I’m way behind my normal pace of movie consumption this year. It’s ridiculous that I still haven’t seen Trance. I missed West of Memphis, John Dies at the End, and a few other things of apparently some amount of merit or another. All of this and yet I wasted my time with Gangster Squad and Admission. (Still scratching my head over Justin’s rather amicable feelings toward that last one.)

    I’m a little upset that Wrong didn’t open here, but hell, who’s to say I’d have made it out to see that either.

    For better or worse, my Vudu account will be getting some heavy use in the coming months.

  15. Ken Hanke

    I wouldn’t wait too long on Trance. It never should have been in two theaters. I thought you were just being reticent about it. I’m the only person I know who loved it. I think everybody else wanted it to have some depth and characters who were likable.

    Wrong wouldn’t have made a nickel — and it’s not very good.

  16. Xanadon't

    I’ve held off on reading much of anything about Trance, but I spoke with someone who was highly impressed but disliked the ending.

    I’ll enter Wrong with lowered expectations then. I had heard good things from a couple different friends around the country. But then again, I didn’t like Rubber as much as they did (or probably you did, if I remember correctly) so…

  17. Ken Hanke

    When you see Trance, you can tell me what other ending you can realistically see being on it.

    I didn’t so much like Rubber as I was impressed by how fucked up it allowed itself to be.

  18. Big Al

    “…I’m way behind my normal pace of movie consumption this year.”

    That pretty much describes me, although I am kinda picky about what I watch and so far few of the films released have looked interesting to me. I have only seen to see 3. One was great, the second OK, the third would have been OK if it had not seemed to last forever. There have been about 3 that I would have seen if I had not had much more interesting things than movies occuring at the time, and I don’t mean TV, which I do not have.

    I hope to catch “Trance” this week and am looking forward to “The Other Son” (amazing since I generally loathe subtitled films),”Mud”, and even “Renoir” looks interesting.

    And “Iron Man 3″ on May 5, which overcomes my general loathing of bourgeoisie overhyped CGI flims simply by the presence of Sir Robert.

  19. Big Al

    Actually, after re-reading previous posts, I forgot about “Admission”, which started out good and ended kinda blah, so that makes 4 seen, 2 enjoyed. Kinda crappy year so far.

  20. Ken Hanke

    What’s the actual breakdown there, Al?

    I wouldn’t worry about the year being nearly 1/3 over. The first 1/4 at least is notoriously crappy most years.

  21. Big Al

    1) Beautiful Creatures – loved it.

    2) Stand-Up Guys – liked it a lot, almost loved it.

    3) Admission – started cute, ended blah.

    4) Place beyond the Pines – started well but slowed and dragged into physical pain and mental misery.

    2012 was also not great for movies, but I did at least see 10 I liked (or did not regret paying to see), and two of them, “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Silver Linings Playbook” made my heart sing.

    Your optimism for the remaining 8 months is encouraging. Thanks!

  22. Ken Hanke

    I liked Beautiful Creatures a lot, but didn’t quite love it. I liked Stand-Up Guy, but, honestly, I’d forgotten about it. Didn’t see Admission. And you know I like Pines a lot.

    Right now, in the strong plus column I have Pines, Stoker, Trance, and Mud. (And two pretty terrific movies that haven’t opened here yet — one of which I warn you is French w/subtitles.) But it’s really early days yet — we haven’t had the big summer season (which usually has its small gems) and the big awards season end-of-year stuff. There’s a Baz Luhrmann, a Pedro Almodovar, and a Woody Allen coming down the pike, so I’m pretty hopeful really.

  23. Xanadon't

    Stoker still has a firm hold on the number one spot for me, though Trance was pretty great. Side Effects did more for me than Pines, even if I’m not ready to say it was the “better movie”. From there… gosh, I think that beanstalk movie takes number five.

    I should get to John Dies at the End tonight while I’m thinking about it. And I might be ready to shake off my doubts about Beautiful Creatures.

    In addition to the upcoming projects mentioned, I for one am really looking forward to Frances Ha and will be surprised if it’s anything less than my clear favorite Baumbach film.

  24. Edwin Arnaudin

    Usually by this time of the year, there’s a documentary that’s wowed me enough to be #1 or 2 heading into the summer slate. Last year it was Detropia and three years ago it was Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine.

    As much as I enjoyed Downloaded, The Crash Reel, and Spinning Plates, they’re all fairly standard docs. Still waiting for one to transcend the genre this year and I’m thinking Room 237 could be it.

  25. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’ve been waiting to goof on the italics for…months.

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