‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated September 3rd, 2014 at 3:10 am,

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes in The Place Beyond the Pines The Place Beyond the Pines Review

In The Place Beyond the Pines, Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motor bike-riding carny who discovers that a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes) had a baby by him after a one-night stand when he last passed through town. Even though Romina has a man named Kofi (Mahershala Ali) in her life, Luke feels entitled to the family he believes is rightfully his. When his new pal Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) suggests using those motor bike skills for high-speed bank robbery, Luke’s family-man dreams are all the motivation he needs to break the law.

This puts Luke on the radar of Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a politician’s son-turned-police officer, working within a department where crooked cops like Deluca (Ray Liotta) run the show. As Luke and Avery try to wade through their respective moral quagmires, the effects of their choices won’t just be felt in their lives – it will create a legacy that will one day be inherited by their sons.

Eva Mendes in The Place Beyond the Pines The Place Beyond the Pines Review

Eva Mendes in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

This film is the latest project from Derek Cianfrance, whose unflinching (and unnervingly insightful) look into romantic relationships made Blue Valentine one of the most acclaimed (and haunting) indie dramas of the last few years. With Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance attempts something much more ambitious, but no less insightful: creating a sweepingly epic indie tale that focuses on the rippling effects of violence and family bonds, in a multi-chaptered onscreen narrative. The experiment is not a perfect success, but the unique framework of the story and the talent of the filmmaker still result in an overall good film.

Like with Blue Valentine, Cianfrance both wrote and directed Place Beyond the Pines – with help on the script front from Ben Coccio and Darius Marde. The narrative is unique in that it is, as stated, a multi-chaptered piece, which slides from character to character at moments of crossing paths, before launching into a third act that takes us on a pretty big leap forward in time. While the transitions are handled relatively smoothly, this form of plot progression will undoubtedly be disorienting for some viewers – as will the division of screen time. Those hoping to see a Bradley Cooper or Ryan Gosling movie may come away feeling cheated by how fractional each star’s time onscreen actually is.

Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines The Place Beyond the Pines Review

Bradley Cooper in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Yet, in each new chapter of the tale, Cianfrance manages to craft a particularly intense, intimate and interesting drama, populated by intriguing characters. Scene-for-scene, Place Beyond the Pines plunges us into fully-formed and immersive worlds of blue-collar and white-collar life on both sides of the law – as well as the modern-day high school jungle.

Even in the quiet and still shots that constitute many of the film’s scenes, there is an ever-present subtext of danger and hopelessness hanging over the characters roaming this Americana wasteland. With his gritty cinematography and eye for scene composition, Cianfrance once again evidences his talent for piercing the surface and exposing the ugly realities of the values we live by and ideals we strive toward. The final segment, however, is where the movie takes a hit, thanks to overly-contrived plotting and a slow build to what is a thrilling, but truncated, ending. A feel good film with cathartic payoff, this is not.

Ryan Gosling in The Place Beyond the Pines The Place Beyond the Pines Review

Ryan Gosling in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

The cast is balanced out in terms of strong and weak players. Gosling is captivating as Luke, oscillating to between unhinged thug and tender family man, effortlessly. Luke is probably the most intriguing character in the story, and Gosling certainly makes him worthy of such attention. Mendes is not as strong as Romina, playing a character whose only task is walking around looking like the weariest woman in the world. It’s not at all a breakout dramatic performance for Mendes (especially when compared to her cast mates), but she’s passable enough to be offered similar roles in the future. Meanwhile, skilled character actors like Ben Mendelsohn (Dark Knight Rises) and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards)  breathe genuine life into what are otherwise tangential characters in Luke’s chapter of the story.

Less interesting is Avery, the character played by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is effective in the role, but in this division of labor between two of the biggest leading men on the planet, Gosling is the stronger of the two and the time spent with Avery often feels like it comes at the expense of time that could’ve been spent with Luke. Thankfully, Avery’s chapter has a strong support team, including iconic character actor Harris Yulin, Blue Bloods star Robert Clohessy, Bruce Greenwood, and especially Ray Liotta and Rose Byrne, who may have the most tense dinner table conversation scene this year. These side characters help prop up the weaknesses in Cooper’s character (not his performance, his character), making  Avery’s chapter better than it otherwise would’ve been.

Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen in The Place Beyond the Pines The Place Beyond the Pines Review

Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

The final segment pits rising young star Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) against emerging actor Emory Cohen (Smash) in a storyline which is, as stated, somewhat hard to take in its grand contrivances – even while carrying the thematic threads of the story as effectively as any other chapter. DeHaan is a captivating young talent, and carries his section exceedingly well – right up until the nail-biting climax. Cohen, on the other hand, is almost too successful playing the incredibly unlikable character of “AJ,” a swagger-filled, rap-spitting, drug-popping, New York teen stranded in the doldrums of upstate NY suburbia. While written as a complexly-layered rogue, Cohen’s alpha-male interpretation of AJ makes it hard to be sympathetic towards the vile boy – which sort of throws-off what the climatic moment of the film is trying to accomplish.

In the end, Place Beyond the Pines manages to illustrate the ravages of family and legacy almost as effectively as Blue Valentine did the ravages of romantic connection. However, the structure of the narrative (while ambitious), combined with an uneven cast of stronger/weaker characters, results in a film that ultimately gets in its own way at the most crucial moments in the story. It’s still a wonderfully crafted work by a talented Americana director – but the movie is likely destined to be remembered more for its all-star cast than its subject matter.

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The Place Beyond the Pines is now playing in limited release. It is 140 minutes long and is Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. When every review for this movie offers a caveat for some restraint regarding essentially the 3rd Act, you take pause in knowing this film is running 2 1/2 hours. An economy of narrative seems difficult for a locavore, indie “auteur” who runs his own show.

    Film reviewers may (often enough) get it wrong unless each critique is an iteration of the last. And then a re-iteration. I didn’t give BLUE VALENTINE much of a chance, admittedly, and the trailer for THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is handsome and cinematically alluring; but no movie moves like the trailer…and, as I said, I tried with BLUE VALENTINE.

    There are certain prerequisites, one might suppose, that we all look for when watching a trailer, reading a film reviewed (though critics are bias) and considering the “oeuvre” of the filmmaker involved. It constitutes our own, personal bias, I suspect, ahead of any willingness to view the film at hand.

    I’m a fan of the cast (albeit I take exception to any one of them being the greatest actor on the planet/re: the reviewer’s bias) and there is no question that I will eventually give up more than two hours of my time on earth to settle any curiosity about this film — or less time, if it feels more like a novel than a movie.

    My only real and honest concern is the use of “epic” to describe PINES; this referent is a scary word when describing the work of any filmmaker. Not that the movie is HEAVEN’S GATE (though it shares the same running time) but when given more time to tell its story, PINES could begin to feel like purgatory.

    • And that concludes the job application for the position of “Screen Rant reviewer”.

      But no, I get what you’re saying, especially the misuse of the word “epic” lately (although different interpretations yield differing results) and I still don’t consider Cooper or Gosling as “leading men”, much less “greatest actors on the planet today”.

  2. It constitutes our own, personal bias, I suspect, ahead of any willingness to view the film at hand.

  3. I’m still excited to see this. I’m sure while this is ambitious it will still hit home with its message.

  4. “Even in the quiet and still shots that constitute many of the film’s scenes, there is an ever-present subtext of danger and hopelessness hanging over the characters roaming this Americana wasteland”

    Damn Kofi, that rules ^^

    • That’s why Kofi (as well as Ben and Sandy) are considered the top reviewers here, their use of language to convey what others would describe along the lines of “there are some quiet moments where nothing much happens but it looks awesome”. Which is why I don’t read those kinds of reviews.

      • I definitely tend to hold Kofi and Ben’s work in the highest regard, but I gotta admit once Sandy gets rolling, he cranks out articles like a machine

    • Finally got around to watching MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE with Elizabeth Olsen, and those words– “Even in the quiet and still shots that constitute many of the film’s scenes, there is an ever-present subtext of danger and hopelessness hanging over the characters roaming this Americana wasteland”– those words resonate for that film, as well.

      Meaning no disrespect to those ranting reviewers, but when you get right down to it, these same words could fill in the images, memories and emotions for just about every low-budget independent movie that’s coming off the conveyor which no one has seen yet.

      Working with a finite budget and not too much time, what the filmmaker does is open up the frame on the actors then let them express aloud or in silence (and in one shot) before moving to the next frame. It’s an economy of angles and editing, suggesting…that’s right, images and memories and emotions.

      • MMMM is great. I just meant upon my initial reading of the review after seeing the film that those words hit me between the eyes..its good stuff. But you’re right, I guess the uncomfortable silence that hangs around in most of these types of films tends to be molded to the subject matter

  5. Awwww thanks! :)

  6. I just got around to watching, this and remember vaguely what this review had to say about the film, i out of curiosity revisited it to see how much I agreed with it. Damn..100% of it, seriously, the first 45 (1/3 of the film) during Ryan Goslings segment, is utterly spectacular, and then Bradley Cooper’s part hits, and while it’s definitely compelling ,you definitely have that feeling that Kofi referenced, like damn i wish there was more time spent on Ryan Gosling’s character. It’s not because Bradley Cooper’s segment is bad by any stretch of the imagination, actually it’s top notch, but seriously i was just mesmerized by the first 45 mins, it was that good. Regardless of that though the first 2/3 (essentially 90 mins) was still out of this world good, something I’d say would be 4.5 or 5 stars.

    *******SPOILER ALERT*************

    I really hope they didn’t think it would be some sort of twist to guess that friend AJ makes, despite not knowing his name off the bat is Jason? I mean if they thought that, then, damn that’s disappointing, that aside, Kofi once again nailed this movie on the head, there was SO many contrivances, they just kept piling up, at first these things seemed to be cool coincidences, but as they continued to pile on, it became almost uncomfortable to watch, not to mention, once again Kofi nails it (broken record I know)the character AJ, whether it was the actor or the script to blame for my opinion on him doesn’t matter, I just wasn’t sympathetic to him to him at all, which made the last 45 mins such a long, drawn out, and frankly “flat” experience.

    I honestly think if they would of simply expanded Goslings segment a bit, maybe to an hour instead of 45 mins? Kept Bradley Cooper’s part the same, and condensed and re did the final sequences to something like 15-20 mins. Making the movie approximately 120-125 Mins, would of helped so much. The fact that the 3rd act was so “flat” was bad enough, but the fact that it took up such a huge chunk, and more importantly an EQUAL chunk of the film as the previous 2 glorious chapters was a disservice to the cast, and the film as a whole.

    Still Enjoyed the film a lot, the directing was still off the charts, I will be looking for his films from now on, he does some unique things.
    Completely agree with 3 star review (unfortunately the first 2/3 of the film are EASILY 4.5 or 5 stars worthy)