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TIFF Review: 'The Place Beyond The Pines' A Searing Tale Of Fathers, Sons & The Legacy Of Sins

by Kevin Jagernauth
September 7, 2012 10:16 PM
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A Place Beyond The Pines

Of all the films arriving at TIFF this year, few are premiering under such an air of mystery as Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond The Pines." With only a couple of official images, but no posters or trailers, the tone and scope of the movie remained under wraps. Following "Blue Valentine," would the film be a similarly intimate and narrowly focused story or something completely different? The answer is that "The Place Beyond The Pines" is an ambitious epic that is cut from some of the same thematic tissue as Cianfrance's previous film, but expands the scope into a wondrously widescreen tale of fathers, sons and the legacy of sins that are passed down through the generations.

Cianfrance opens the film with a bravura tracking shot, following Ryan Gosling's Luke from behind, Dardennes Brothers style, as he walks through a carnival in upstate in New York, eventually arriving at the main event. He leads a group of stunt drivers that motorcycle daredevil style in an enclosed circular metal cage at top speed, as they defy death by narrowly keeping from crashing into each other. His plethora of tattoos on nearly every part of body indicate a past of pain and trouble, and his job is one that means he's always on the move. But things change when he learns his fling with waitress Romina (Eva Mendes) the previous year when he was last through town, has resulted in a son. 

Place Beyond The Pines, Bradley Cooper

While his life up until this point may be dishonorable, lonely and unsteady, Luke is determined to do the reputable thing and contribute to the support of his child, despite the obstacles in his way. Romina is living with another man, and a stunt driver has little employment options outside of minimum wage gigs. Luke makes friends with the similarly shady Robin (Ben Mendelsohn from "Animal Kingdom" and "The Dark Knight Rises") who runs an auto body shop...and also happens to be a former bank robber. It isn't long before the pair decide to team on this illegal, but very well paying job, but Luke's path puts him right on a collision course with Avery (Bradley Cooper), a local cop.

And that's all we can tell you about the plot because a major narrative twist at the end first act is best left unspoiled, but this shift raises the stakes and reorients the story so dramatically that 'Pines' begins to take on a scale few films attempt, let alone achieve. In some ways, one could look at 'Pines' as a spiritual sequel to "Blue Valentine." If the latter film chronicled in raw, intimate detail the fracture of a relationship, it's in 'Pines' that Cianfrance follows what the fallout would be. This is a film that is very much about how the actions of the father, directly and indirectly pass on to the son. Or how the fissures and mistakes of the previous generation, have ramifications both practical and emotional months, years and decades later.

There will be some who will tilt the film and viewing it from another angle, it could be regarded as an allegory for the moral turpitude that has shaken the American dream. At one point, Avery reflects that when he was in law school, justice was viewed as a concept that was discussed, not as a tangible right. And only by becoming a cop, could he actually ensure justice was carried out, although it was by force. But as we learn, Avery and Luke are both morally compromised, even as they try to do with the right thing in both their lives. But what is undeniable is that while Luke is clearly breaking the law, the fallout from Avery's ethically dubious actions hits those hard on the social and financial rung below him. And that unfairness is not only unforgotten, but festers and boils beneath the surface.

All of these elements -- working class struggle, familial and generational discord, the relationship (or lack thereof) between fathers and sons -- builds tremendously into a film that feels like it has shades of classic Italian melodramas put through the lens of a distinctly American film. No surprise then that the score and soundtrack veers from Arvo Part to new music from Mike Patton to the electronic crunch of Amon Tobin and still feels of a whole. It's part of a grand production tapestry that elevates this picture to another dimension.

And then there's the cinematography by Steve McQueen's frequent collaborator Sean Bobbitt who has worked on all his films. Capturing the feel of small town Schenectady, while also opening up and providing breathtaking, beautiful vistas of New York state countryside, it visually helps 'Pines' establish itself as a film of big ideas and vision. That the film is strongly acted across the board, the final pieces in helping Cianfrance deliver his first grand opus, is almost an afterthought. Gosling, Cooper, Mendes and Mendelsohn all do terrific work (the latter continuing to astonish at how easily he can shapeshift into roles). But we'd be remiss in not giving kudos to both Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen who arrive at a key juncture and deliver with some astonishing work. The latter in particular a true revelation.

With "The Place Beyond The Pines" Derek Cianfrance has now placed himself in the canon of great, contemporary American filmmakers like James Gray, Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers. This is a film that desires to say something about how we relate to each other, and how the often overlooked consequences of our actions can refract down avenues we could never expect. A brilliant, towering picture, "The Place Beyond The Pines" is a cinematic accomplishment of extraordinary grace and insight. [A]

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  • annabeth | March 27, 2013 1:51 AMReply

    Kevin Jagernauth is seriously just the worst WORST critic. I'm sorry, but someone needs to take his keyboard away please. What a douche!

  • Chris | September 10, 2012 9:53 AMReply

    First footage from the film:

  • mass | September 8, 2012 6:16 PMReply

    "And that's all we can tell you about the plot because a major narrative twist at the end first act is best left unspoiled"

    By saying that you've just spoiled the plot twist. Thanks. Do you really believe we're stupid enough not to understand what you've just hinted at? Goddamn, you know this isn't even the first article to make this stupid mistake. Why can't you people just say it was good and speak about its strong points? Fuck me. For the love of god, edit your article so as to not spoil the next poor bloke who has the misfortune of reading it.

    And for all you morons answering the question whether or not a certain actor is in it for a long time or not AKA: Fenny, shut your mouth, your response combined with Kevin's review DEFINITELY gives away the twist. God, you people are so ridiculous.

  • SC | September 8, 2012 3:47 PMReply

    Can we really take Kevin's review seriously? He's so obsessed with and biased towards Ryan Gosling, I'm pretty sure he has his own shrine dedicated to Gosling at this point. He's always ridiculously hyperbolic and never critical towards anything involving him.

  • hank | September 8, 2012 8:52 PM

    this film is getting slammed pretty hard in other reviews I have read.

  • Vitaliy | September 8, 2012 10:36 AMReply

    My cousin almost got the role that went to Dane DeHaan so I know about this major "plot twist"... A lot of fangirls won't be happy. The script was really good though. Great material all around for all actors...

    It's hard for me to imagine how this kind of film would place Cismfrance in the same league as PT but I havnt seen the film ... You're praise definitely has me excited to see what he came up with.

  • Mer | September 14, 2012 12:05 AM

    Thanks for the spoiler alert...

  • hank | September 8, 2012 1:41 PM

    "a lot of fangirls won't be happy."
    wow I wonder what the twist could be? thanks bro

  • AE | September 8, 2012 8:39 AMReply

    Word of warning to anyone interested in this movie, don't read the Variety review, he gives away the plot twist and it's a huge one..What's with that!?

  • pia k | September 8, 2012 7:50 AMReply

    Derek is a very talented filmmaker and this film sounds really exciting, but Paul Thomas Anderson? Really?

  • Jensen | September 8, 2012 10:11 AM

    Yeah I don't see the comparison at all. I'm a huge huge HUGE fan of Blue Valentine and I regard it as one of the best films of the last decade or so but it's more so for the acting than the directing/writing. PTA is GOD.

  • Grade this and see if i care. | September 8, 2012 6:41 AMReply

    Oohhh you film critics/reviewers/bloggers and your grading film report card.... What a motherfuckingGOD! The real MASTER of this entertainment universe.


  • oh | September 8, 2012 6:59 AM

    GRADE THIS AND SEE IF I CARE: the world is really waiting for negative screamers like yourself.

  • filmlover | September 8, 2012 6:28 AMReply


    Bases on your experience, do you think there will be Oscarnominations for this movie? If so, who and for what?

  • Kevin | September 8, 2012 8:48 AM

    Maybe Screenplay? Not your typical Oscar sort of movie, so not quite sure what it's prospects would be in that regard. Also not everyone is gonna get on board with this one.

  • Christian | September 8, 2012 5:30 AMReply

    To Kevin: How would you describe its visual style? Is it different than the hyper realistic, grtity style of Blue Valentine? Could you compare it to another visually similar film? And can you compare it to any similar crime films in terms of tone and style?

  • Kevin | September 8, 2012 8:47 AM

    Complete 180 visually from "Blue Valentine." Not quite sure what I would compare it to exactly though.

  • dave | September 8, 2012 3:58 AMReply

    "Derek Cianfrance has now placed himself in the canon of great, contemporary American filmmakers like James Gray, Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers." I know you're excited, but please calm down. Good review, though. Sounds like a good movie.

  • Rodrigo from The Playlist | September 13, 2012 4:31 PM

    Oogle Monster & Russell. While We Own The Night had a medium 57% RT score from critics (not quite slammed) as you say, there is small-ish, but vocal contingent of critics who believe James Gray is one of the great American contemporary directors (as Thomas also believes) says. And frankly, a lot of Playlist writers belong to that group including myself. We Own The Night is fantastic and that guy has not made anything short of a great film thus far.

    The issue is a lot of people haven't seen all the films and dismiss them because the marketing was generic.

  • oogle monster | September 13, 2012 4:25 PM

    We Own the Night was slammed by critics. Wtf are you talking about? I did like Two Lovers though.

  • Thomas | September 9, 2012 11:42 AM

    Russell - Yep. His two most recent films, "We Own the Night" and especially "Two Lovers" firmly place him among the ranks of great contemporary American directors.

  • Russell | September 8, 2012 6:05 PM

    Let's go even further. James Gray is on the same level as Coen Bros and PTA? Suspect.

  • Diana | September 8, 2012 12:36 AMReply

    Amon Tobin? I'm there.

  • LC | September 7, 2012 11:38 PMReply

    If I wasn't a fan of Blue Valentine, will I still like this or should I skip it?

  • AS | September 7, 2012 11:34 PMReply

    Sounds like it could be fantastic. I really liked Blue Valentine so I'm definitely interested in what he'll do with this. I remember, a couple of months ago, the filmmakers described it as The Deer Hunter meets The Godfather, so naturally I was very curious to see how this would turn out. Gosling is easily my favorite young actor working right now so the fact that he's in it only sweetens the pot. This is definitely a film I will have to avoid all trailers for, as it doesn't sound like a film you want to have spoiled before you see it. I'm tempted to just let this review be the last thing I read about it. I hope this finds a distributor soon and gets put into theaters before 2013. We already lost Only God Forgives to 2013, I really don't want to lose this one too.

  • DG | September 7, 2012 11:09 PMReply

    Wait so are Gosling and Cooper the main characters or Gosling and Mehndelson?

  • fenny | September 8, 2012 2:33 AM

    Cooper is in the film more than anyone. Dane Dehaan is in it more than Gosling or Mendelsohn.

  • DG | September 7, 2012 11:08 PMReply

    Wow everything about this sounds fucking awesome, can't wait to see it. I trust you guys that it's as good as you say it is, this one seemed to have a lot going for it right from the get go. Also on a side note I always hate it when people complain about grammar in the comments section but seriously this one was bad, just proofread that shit, even just a cursory proofread... Ok nit picking over with

  • Real | September 7, 2012 10:40 PMReply

    Excited for this but what about the female roles? Review barely mentioned the female roles or performances. Films like this sometimes tend to sideline the women characters. Is that the case here?

  • Yentil | September 8, 2012 12:20 AM

    @Real- Michelle indeed had a juicy part but let's be real- Eva Mendes could never ever ever pull of heavy material so it's better she sticks with tiny roles. Disappointed to hear that Byrne isn't included... I would of at least given her more to work with since she has such great comic and dramatic timing!

  • Real | September 7, 2012 11:53 PM

    @Jim: Thank you so much for the response. Sorry to say that with the casting of Mendes and Byrne I guessed they would be pretty thankless roles but he gave Michelle Williams such juicy part in "Blue Valentine" I was curious. I'm still looking forward to this immensely. Excited to see Cooper's performance after these raves as he's an actor that has yet to win me over.

  • Jim | September 7, 2012 11:34 PM

    I saw the screening too. IMO the female roles were underwritten and weak (not sure why Kevin mentioned the ever-dull Mendes. She and Byrne were forgettable), but in a film that focuses on fathers and sons and male conflict, it's to be expected really.

    I enjoyed the film, thought I had a few issues with the third act. Still, overall solid. This film was all about Bradley Cooper and Dane Dehaan though. Cooper made me a believer here.

  • Lauren | September 7, 2012 10:35 PMReply

    No mention of Rose Byrne?? Also, how is Cianfrance in PTA's league?

  • Kevin J | September 8, 2012 2:45 AM

    Byrne's role is pretty small.

  • OOGLE MONSTER | September 7, 2012 10:32 PMReply

    I love Cianfrance + Gosling but no way this is graded higher than THE MASTER.

  • Oogle monster | September 7, 2012 10:59 PM

    Ok I will keep that in mind. I didn't look to see who wrote this review, so apologies about jumping all over you Kevin!

  • The Playlist | September 7, 2012 10:54 PM

    Kevin hasn't seen the Master. And The Master was reviewed by someone else so that kind of comparison is ill-advised.. More importantly. We do not keep a tab of grades and then rank then up against another film ("hmm, what did that film get?"). A film is graded on its own merits, nothing more.

  • BEF | September 7, 2012 10:50 PM

    To Kevin it must've been. When you see both, you'll have an informed opinion. I don't mean that as slander, it's one person's view and when you see both you'll have your own.

  • jimmiescoffee | September 7, 2012 10:31 PMReply

    so much good at festivals lately. does this have a hard date to hit cinemas?

  • Maggie | September 7, 2012 10:31 PMReply

    Wow Emory Cohen is a revelation? He sucks so much on "Smash". But hey I guess the material made the difference

  • oize | September 9, 2012 3:04 AM

    Dude Emory Cohen fucking kills me.

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