The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Review Date: 3/12/2014

Rating: 2/5 Peanuts.

In a Nutshell:

A dark and brooding tale of crime, corruption and hopelessness, The Place Beyond the Pines drops the ball by sacrificing depth for breadth, creating a multi-generational hodgepodge about the sins of our fathers.

Full Review:

When I first saw trailers for Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, I thought I was going to see another version of Drive, but wound up getting Legends of the Fall without the travel, depth or intrigue. All this is my way of telling you that properly setting expectations is important because I was severely disappointed, which is undoubtedly contributing to the lower score. This being America though, I’m sticking to my guns and I’ll tell you why.

Pines tells the tale of a traveling motorcycle stuntman played by Ryan Gosling who (eventually) goes on a crime spree robbing banks to earn extra money – who could possibly confuse that with Drive, right? However, Gosling’s story is merely Act I in a three part drama concerning the goings on of the utterly depressing small city called Schenectady in upstate New York. The City of Schenectady’s name comes from the Mohawk word for “place beyond the pine plains” so the film’s writers were actually trolling me while presenting themselves as poetic. Pines isn’t the story of any one character, nor is it even really a cohesive collection of stories, as that would require more resolution than we are given. What Pines really comes across as is a collection of loosely connected stories which, I think, serve to create the character of the city itself, much the way that Sin City structures its own narrative.

In fact, had I known this particular piece of trivia going in to the film, I might have been better prepared for the sprawling mess of a story that I got. I look at it the same way that I look at watching 12 Years a Slave – I know it’s going to take a certain mindset to appreciate, and I’m waiting for that mood to strike.

You see, Gosling passes the torch to Bradley Cooper, a cop who encounters Gosling during his run as the “Moto Bandit” who then in turn passes the torch to his and Gosling’s sons many years later when they strike up an awkward friendship, unaware of their fathers’ shared past. Having seen the film twice now, I’m convinced that its entire purpose is to present a nihilistic world view of predetermination. A sort of sons paying for the sins of their fathers motif if you will. I was so struck by this unspoken sentiment that, having just watched the first season of True Detective, I half wanted McConaughey’s Rust Cole to appear on screen and launch into his “time is a flat circle” routine.

Storyline aside, The Place Beyond the Pines is rather unremarkable, falling firmly into the category of “merely ok” with brief flashes of promise, especially from Gosling. An indie film to its core, it doesn't shy away from long moments of stillness, the cinematic equivalent of using “negative space”, with establishing shots that linger just a little too long and a heavy-handed reliance on color pallet and musical score to really hammer home the tone of the film.

If you've got the time, The Place Beyond the Pines is probably still worth a watch, especially the first third of it, but don't be surprised if everything drags after the chase scene roughly half way through the film. If nothing else, this film will give you another opportunity to see Ryan Gosling be moody, Bradley Cooper be randomly explosive and Dane DeHaan have a tough time with high school.