REVIEW: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

PLACE Poster

The title may make it sound like a high-minded ethereal exercise, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” is actually an ambitious movie that is one part cautionary tale and one part complex family drama. The film reunites its star Ryan Gosling with director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance who previously worked together on “Blue Valentine”. This is certainly a different kind of movie with many more layers and a much broader vision. That doesn’t always equal a better movie but in this case Cianfrance definitely takes a step up and his new film almost reaches the lofty heights it aims for.

“The Place Beyond the Pines” can basically be broken down into three parts. First we meet a motorcycle stunt performer named Luke Glanton (Gosling). He’s a tattooed, chain-smoking loner who goes town to town with a traveling carnival. During an annual stop in upstate New York Luke learns he has fathered a child with a local waitress named Romina (Eva Mendes). He decides to quit the carnival and stick around hoping to take care of son, but with no money or job that becomes difficult. He strikes up a friendship with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) a local mechanic with an affection for robbing banks. A few bad choices later and Luke finds himself in a pretty tough spot.


Luke’s story connects to that of a young local police officer named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The second part of the film focuses on Avery after he is injured in the line of duty. He struggles with the actions that led to his injury and the “hero” tag that he has been given. As he recovers he fights to stay connected to his wife and young son. He also faces a battle between his moral conscious and some shady goings-on by his friends on the police force.

The third part of the film jumps ahead 15 years but to tell anything else about it would be doing a disservice to the viewer. Suffice it to say this is a film about two men, two families, two fathers, and two sons whose lives are veritably intertwined. The three segments each have their own unique tone and feel to them yet the connection between all three is always there. This was a bold approach to storytelling and I certainly can appreciate Cianfrance’s ambition. But the risk would only work if all three segments were equally good and unfortunately that’s not the case.

My favorite of the three “chapters” (for lack of a better word) was the first one which focused on Gosling’s character. This was a good surprise for me because unlike many people I’m not sold on him as an actor. We get a lot of his normal routine here – brooding, emotionless stares, and a lot of mumbling. But it actually fits a lot better with this character and Gosling does throw in a few variations that we rarely get from him. The story is compelling and features a gritty realism. I loved Mendelsohn here and Mendes is very good as well.


I also liked the second act which focused on Bradley Cooper’s character. It’s drastically different but deeply connected to what we’ve already seen. The contrasts in the lives of these two men are jarring yet there are similarities which I will let you sort out for yourselves. It’s during this chapter that the film does begin to slow down a bit but it still maintains a strong dramatic pull. But the final act tries to be a little too clever and the contrivances that are employed are all too obvious. There are parts of the final third that do work but as a whole the story becomes less interesting and it’s here that I began to feel the trudge of the movie’s 140 minute running time.

So what do I make of “The Place Beyond the Pines”? Ultimately it was a better movie than I anticipated but not one that fully meets its own high expectations. The camerawork is fantastic and the performances are solid across the board. Also, I never begrudge a filmmaker from making bold choices, but I don’t feel Cianfrance quite knew when to pull back the reins. In the end the film felt a little too cocky and indulgent for its own good. While that brought the movie down a bit it certainly didn’t undo the good qualities that we see particularly in the first two acts.


50 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Place Beyond the Pines”

  1. Nice review Keith, and a fair review at that. I enjoyed this a lot – thought it was one of the more underrated films of 2013 – but I agree with the faults you point out (that said I’ll forgive any transgressions by a film with an opening shot like this one). I said in my review that it feels like a stepping stone for Cianfrance on the way to making a truly great movie in the future, and still hope that’s the case.

    • That’s a good statement. I hope you’re right. I think he shows some real chops here. It definitely interests me in what he has for the future.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I liked the 1st section the best as well. I had the heads up that the movie would be in 3 parts so I wasn’t thrown for a loop like I might have been. It didn’t quite come together as well as it could have in the end but still I liked this one. Great review as always.

    • Thanks a lot. I too think it goes a little off the rails in the third act but it was still a much better picture than I expected. Definitely ambitious but a little too much so.

  3. I also found the first part to be most interesting and am not as enamored with Ryan Gosling as many. Still, I think he did a good job in this movie. The last act really bugged me, mainly because of one actor in particular. Still, I think it was an interesting movie overall.

    • I think you and I are probably on the exact same page. There are many parts of this film that work really well. But the finally act is a pretty big stretch. And I think I know the exact performance you’re speaking of!

  4. Top write up mate. Very ambitious film, this one, and I think it works for the most part. Strong performances and an intriguing story. Totally agree that the first part is the best though and slowly goes downhill after that.

  5. Great review, man. It’s certainly an ambitious work and the final third does rely a little too heavily on a convenient and chance meeting but up until then I thought it was superb. The shift between the first and second part was seemless but I did find that I missed Gosling’s character quite a bit.

    • Great summary. I’d to miss Gosling’s character (and I’m not a big fan of the actor). But I thought Cooper was good too. His story at a different tone to it but they pulled it off. But that third act. The convenient meeting was a little problematic but what they did with it didn’t work for me either. And were you ever as interested in those final two characters as you were with Gosling and Cooper? I never was after first meeting them.

  6. Good review! Viewed and wrote up about this a while back, I thought it was very good, the story is something which is ambitious yet brilliant in the way it all interlinks. Likewise with you and many others the first act was my favourite, and unfortunately the third seemed to short despite the long running time! Acting was also a highlight and added to my long list of good gosling films, glad you enjoyed it nevertheless! 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and I appreciate the comments. Gosling is certainly not my favorite actor but I thought he was very good here and as you said, the movie was its best when he was on screen. I also give props to Cooper who made his character sympathetic and intriguing. But that third act hinged so much on manufactured drama and contrivances that it felt like it belonged in an entirely different film.

      • You’re welcome. I agree completely, the third act took a different approach which essentially made it look different and isolated itself from the other acts!

  7. Another one here who agrees the first act is the best, kind of like Drive on a motorbike, it has the most energy of the three parts. I’d rate it a bit higher than you, even though the three story structure can make it a difficult watch at times. I still agree with a lot if your points though.

    • Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment. I know this movie got a lot of positive reaction yet I still didn’t expect to care for it at all. I was really surprised just how good it was. I think if they would have rethought that third act it could have been something great for me. Still I want to applaud it for the many things it does right. Did this make your Top of 2013 list? I know a lot of people habit there.

    • Thanks a lot. I can definitely see why some would have that reaction to it. My score is strictly on the merits of the first two parts (especially act one). I liked them enough to review it favorably as a whole. That last part did hurt it considerably though.

      Did you have high expectations for this film? I know many did. I did not and maybe that is why I came away a bit surprised.

      • Yes whenever I saw the trailers I was like wow this looks like it could be a really good movie, edgy, artsy and a cool theme. Instead I was let down and I almost wanted to just turn the movie off. So maybe that was part of it!

  8. Haven’t seen this one yet Keith, but as you probably already know, I’m not a big fan of Gosling (that’s me being nice, ahah). I do like Eva Mendes though, so I might rent it at some point.

    • RUTH!?!?!?! We have went over this before! Aren’t you hypnotized by the Gosling stare? Isn’t it magnetic? 😉

      It is worth a rental. Like you I’m not sold on Gosling but he does a good job hear. He still isn’t asked to show much emotional range and quite honestly I’m starting to wonder if he can.

  9. Great review Keith. I agree with you on all fronts, accept I may have given it four stars. The acting was superb here with the first two parts having interesting characters and a interesting plot. I sometimes questioned the end for a third part, I mean some of it was good but it was too obvious.

    • Thanks so much. The first two parts felt true and grounded. The third part felt fabricated and contrived to me. Still the movie was entertaining and even though it is a bit too long I was always interested.

  10. I love this film, but I can really understand the issues so many people had with it. It’s a very spotty film, that while it has a central theme of fathers, it can never quite find out where it wants to be. But yes, the camerawork and the acting really elevates it. I think for those reasons I can forgive it’s wishy-washy-ness.

  11. I don’t like Goslings style in this type of films. Maybe that is because I’ve only seen Only God Forgives and that was so bad that I fear watching Drive. Despite Gangster Squad not being very good, I enjoyed his personality in that film. May check this out at some point or another…

  12. I know a lot of people had issues with this movie but I really love it. That first part stays with you throughout and makes the other parts have more impact.

    • I’m with you on the first part and I even like the second. But the third act really came undone for me. It was gutsy and ambitious but I wish the movie would have pulled the reins back a bit after the second act.

  13. Great review! I have to admit, I was not a fan of this flick. I almost turned it off during the first twenty minutes because I felt like I was being left out of an inside joke. Plus, I the pacing was just too slow in the first act. I wasn’t expecting the twists in the film, but after everything that happened I felt like the ending was a little weak.

    • I’m completely with you on the ending. It tried to be a little too cute and it isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is. I did kinda like Gosling here. He is an actor who has never impressed me before and he has shown practically no range. But I thought he actually fit here.

      Thanks so much for the comments. Really appreciate you stopping by and checking out the review.

  14. Nice review. I agree the movie does suffer the third act (the reveal is a bit hard to swallow and too coincidental to be believable), but I thought the movie was strong overall. I really enjoyed the epic feel to the picture and thought Gosling and Cooper both gave good performances.

    • I agree with you especially about Gosling and Cooper – two actors who don’t always get it right. I really like both of them here. It’s just a shame the final part was so uninteresting and downright hard to believe. It definitely did not ruin this movie but it didn’t hurt it in my eyes.

  15. Great review, Keith. I more or less agree with you. The first act is the best; the second act is still quite good and the third act stumbles. In addition to everything you said, I would have liked to see Cianfrance find some way to make the female characters a touch more important and relevant to their sons’ lives.

    Even our scores are similar (I gave this a B-).

    • I agree with everything you said. The female point is interesting. I wonder if the absence of an important female influence on their lives contributed to there struggles?

      • But, that’s the thing. The way Byrne and Dawson’s mother’s are characterized, they aren’t absent, delinquent parents. They are involved, caring and attentive. They should, in my opinion, be more important.

      • Oh ok, you are referring to the two sons. I see what you were saying. For some reason I thought you were talking about the two fathers (especially Luke).

        I don’t know why I thought that. It was a long night last night! 🙂

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