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The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

May 1, 2013



written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder

produced by: Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky and Jamie Patricof

directed by: Derek Cianfrance

rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference) 

runtime: 140 min.

U.S. release date: March 29, 2013


It’s been about 24 hours since I saw 2013’s “The Place Beyond the Pines”  in theaters, and I’m still processing the film. Reviews were uniformly positive, the trailer instantly hooked me as did the cast, and my first thought was that it resembled an art-house crime drama like a Melville film or a moody 1970s American flick like “The Driver”. So yeah, I’m still processing it, but in a good way for a change. I liked it a lot, just deciding if maybe I loved it too.

A stunt motorcycle rider at a traveling carnival, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) meets Romina (Eva Mendes) as the carnival returns to towns it visited the summer before. She has a shock for him; she had a baby, and it’s his, the product of their one night together the year before. Romina has moved on, but Luke wants to help raise his son. He starts work as a mechanic, hoping to provide for his boy, but the money just isn’t there. With a co-worker, he starts to rob banks, netting more than enough money to give Romina and his son everything they need. The plan can only work for so long though, and Luke’s actions have put him on a path that will have him cross ways with Aaron (Bradley Cooper), a talented if inexperienced cop dealing with his own issues in the department.

I don’t usually do this, but here goes. This is a review that’s going to be somewhat difficult to write without giving some spoilers away. I won’t be giving away any MAJOR SPOILERS — and there are some surprising twists — but be forewarned. There are some storytelling twists that I will have to talk about to be even remotely coherent.




Director Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to his uniquely interesting – some would say odd – 2010 film “Blue Valentine”, ‘Pines’ is a gem of a film. I fell for it the second I watched the trailer. It is an artsy, well-told and unique story that doesn’t settle for any semblance of the status quo. The developing story has a lyrical feel to it, based in this world but in an almost ethereal feel to it. Cianfrance filmed on location in Schenectady (where the story takes place), a city in eastern New York that feels removed from the congestion and business of everyday life. It’s a town that looks like any number of small towns across the country. Maybe the best thing adding to the mood and tone is the soundtrack from composer Mike Patton. It is a perfect mix of trance, subtle electronica, choirs, and quasi-religious church hymns. The score is perfect, giving it an authentic sense of the ethereal, the other worldly. Give it a listen HERE for the best track.

Here comes the semi-spoilers so again, be forewarned. At 140 minutes, ‘Pines’ is broken down into three separate segments. The first has Gosling’s Luke trying to provide for his son in desperate fashion, turning to robbing banks. The second has Cooper’s Aaron trying to carve a name out for himself as a young police officer dealing with quite a legacy. The third actually fast-forwards 15 years as Luke’s son, Jason (Dane DeHaanChronicle“), meets Aaron’s son, A.J. (Emory Cohen), at high school, the two teenagers not knowing that they’re somehow connected through their fathers. Each segment is given equal time, about 45 minutes, each given a chance to breathe and develop without feeling forced. Don’t be confused. They are connected, one part of the story transitioning seamlessly into the next. It’s rare to see a story develop like that, and ‘Pines’ does it well. It’s different from most films which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but this one is a huge positive.

The unifying link among the three segments is the relationships between fathers and their sons, a story arc used in everything from Field of Dreams to The Godfather and countless others. Luke sees he’s made a mistake and wants to right those mistakes. He’s so driven to do that, he turns to crime. Aaron similarly wants to care for his infant son, but he doesn’t know if the career he’s chosen is actually the right one. Cianfrance’s script shows how one decision affects another, one action leads to another. The relationship between a father and son is a simple and complicated relationship at the same time. Without sounding pretentious, the artsy story uses the notion that the universe is connected, people who are supposed to meet will meet. Some paths and individuals are destined to cross no matter what happens.




There isn’t a weak performance in the bunch. Semi-channeling his part from the equally impressive Drive, Gosling is a gem. His part as Luke is the perfect doomed, moody anti-hero. We know from when we meet him his path will not be a smooth one. Luke’s scenes with his baby boy are perfection, including one silent scene after some startling violence. He continues to impress me as an actor. Arriving about the 45-minute mark, Cooper takes a familiar part – young cop dealing with corrupt police force – and makes it his own. He’s a hero on the force and struggling to deal with his newfound fame. Relative newcomers DeHaan and Cohen more than handle themselves well in the final act. The high point of the story was Gosling’s portion, but I enjoyed it all from beginning to end.

Playing a key supporting part, Mendes too is very solid as Romina, the mother of Luke’s child who has moved on, moving in with Kofi (scene-stealing Mahershala Ali, “Predators“). Without being obvious in her part, Mendes does a good job making Romina human without being obnoxious or hamming it up. Ben Mendelsohn (“Animal Kingdom“) is similarly a scene-stealer as Robin, Luke’s boss at a fix-it shop who turns him onto bank robbery. Rose Byrne (“X-Men: First Class“) plays Aaron’s worrying wife while Harris Yulin (“My Soul to Take“) plays his famous father. Bruce Greenwood (“Flight“) makes an effective, quick appearance as a district attorney while Ray Liotta plays (GASP!) a dirty cop recruiting Aaron. All solid parts supporting the leads.

I’m liking this film more and more as I write the review. The third part drags a little bit, and I would have liked a more definite ending, but it works just the same. Cianfrance’s script has everything coming full circle (well, almost), wrapping it all up in a moving, at times heartbreaking finale. The title comes from the Mohawk translation of Schenectady by the way. I loved this movie. It opens with a worthy start, an impressive tracking shot following Luke as he walks through the carnival, and never really lets up. Well worth seeking out, and definitely a change of pace from most movies.




RATING: ****




4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2013 10:18 am

    Nice review Tim. Nothing special, but the cast is great and works through any pit-fall the script may throw at them.


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