The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan GoslingBradley CooperEva Mendes, Ray Liotta
Plot: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.

Genre: Crime/Drama

Awards: -
Runtime: 140min
Rating: R21/M18 (cut!) for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference. 



“If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.”

Its title may be mysterious, but Derek Cianfrance's new film is anything but a mystery.  It is an ambitious tale for one, but Cianfrance just manages to pull it off, though not without strain and effort to keep everything together.  

The Place Beyond the Pines is a 'passing the baton' kind of picture, where one character passes the leading mantle to another.  There is no real drive to the narrative, but a momentum that is kickstarted from the energy of its outstanding opening long-take sequence, and that miraculously lasts till the final minute despite its energy dissipating past the hour mark when the first crucial baton is passed.

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes, The Place Beyond the Pines centers on a small town and the legacy and future of fathers and sons in that town.  For better or worse, three stories are condensed into one lengthy film, with the first one most riveting. Gosling steals the show in the first forty-five minutes, after which Cooper takes over, though his screen presence is not as magnetic as dear Ryan’s.

One can argue that the film may prove frustrating to fans of Gosling because the grand narrative does not center on his character, but rather treats him as a cog in the wheel. The marketing of the film with most posters centering on Gosling is also deceiving in this regard.

A few moviegoers in the theater I was in left the screening halfway.  I don’t blame them.  But I do urge viewers who are planning to see this to show patience because Cianfrance’s film is more than just a tattooed Gosling on a bike.  It wants to achieve something greater. 

It is a film that deals strongly with the theme of fate, where the most insignificant of actions can lead to devastating consequences.  It is also a film that captures a time period that is remarkably ‘bygone’, despite its contemporary setting.  Cianfrance has said that he originally envisioned his film to be a modern, revisionist take on the classic American Western, which could explain the film’s tone.

The Place Beyond the Pines is very much a film that is self-contained in its own world.  Like Cianfrance’s previous work, Blue Valentine (2010), The Place Beyond the Pines isolates its characters and their stories into a single time and space characterized by its own history and mythology.  Nothing quite exists outside of it. 

In a way, Cianfrance’s work loosely reminds me of films like Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988).  It leaves behind a legacy of sorts, one that is filled with regrets, loss opportunities, and the yearning for the chance to go back to the past to savour the love and bonding from those we hold closest to our hearts, and hope to make things right again.

Verdict: Cianfrance somehow pulls everything together, though not without strain, in this part-satisfying, part-frustrating picture on father-son legacies and fate. 

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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