A Few Thoughts on A Place Beyond the Pines

The_Place_Beyond_the_Pines_PosterA Place Beyond the Pines is not the movie you think it is. It doesn’t star the actors you think it stars, tell the story you expect it to tell, or offer the experience you signed up for.

For many of you, this will be all you want to know about A Place Beyond the Pines. It is almost impossible to say anything else about the film without revealing what the marketers of the picture have chosen to keep quiet. Whether or not breaking this confidence constitutes spoiling A Place Beyond the Pines isn’t really the right question, though.

Certainly one could have a better sense of what the film is before going in without ruining it. And I’d even say knowing some of what’s in store would avoid a clash of expectations.

But to those of you with sensitive eyes and delicate constitutions I say, “Turn back now.” Should you read further, I’m going to say what needs saying.


There. Now that we’re alone. I’ll tell you.

place-beyond-pines ryan gosling

Gosling’s gosling? Is there a word for an extremely young goose? Egg, I guess.

First off, I didn’t like A Place Beyond the Pines much. Partly that was due to wanting one thing and receiving another. I thought I was seeing a moody heist picture starring a tatted up Ryan Gosling. One could describe the film that way, I suppose, just as one could call The Godfather a heartwarming tale about an old man and his garden. Ryan Gosling is indeed in this movie some. More of the movie, though, has no Ryan Gosling in it. None at all. That’s because A Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-part saga about fathers and sons and the cycle of blundered paternity.

One part of the film, the first part, focuses on Ryan Gosling and his bank robberies. Another part is about Bradley Cooper’s police officer, Avery, and his struggle with departmental corruption. Yet another part is about Avery’s son — fifteen years later — and his meathead ways. These stories all connect directly and coherently.

Had I gone to the theater to see those stories, or even if I had had some expectation that I was in for those stories, I might have wanted to watch them.

As it was, I stopped caring about anything as soon as Ryan Gosling’s moto-riding bank robber left the spotlight. Gosling was good, if a bit goofy looking and screechy. He got his rage on and shared some nice screen time with Ben Mendelsohn, who caught my eye in Killing Them Softly and who gives an equally strong a performance here. There was a submerged thrum to this part of the story, carried through by score and camera, and the mood felt immediate and fragile. (and yes Fellow Traveler, the humanity, yes)

Place Beyond the Pine Bradley Cooper Velociraptor

It’s not just me, right?

Then Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop, Avery, took the fore and I was surprised. Was I supposed to care about him? How bothersome. Not that Cooper was bad; in fact he was quite a clever girl. Just, he didn’t belong in the story I had come to see. I did my best to invest in him and his struggles with Ray Liotta and Rose Byrne but this story had no thrum, no hook in my heart. This story was just a story. It even felt like filler save for a single scene in a counselor’s office. A cop gets sucked into corruption, there will be consequences, etcetera.

The people seated behind me started to talk. They continued to talk. I didn’t tell them to be quiet because I didn’t really care.

I was also uninvolved.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with a film because of pre-set expectations. I struggle with whether it’s fair to let preconceptions (those set by marketers) color my impressions of a picture, but the truth is unless you avoid all pre-release material, it can’t be helped. It’s also fair to say that anticipation and satisfaction are valid points of reference.


This kid, Dane DeHaan, is probably the real star of A Place Beyond the Pines.

When A Place Beyond the Pines jumps a generation with a “15 years later” title card we find ourselves following Avery’s son, A.J. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going to happen next. We’re going to be taught an important lesson about fathers and sons and the cycle of blundered paternity. I swear I almost walked out then. I just wanted to shake everyone on screen and shout, “Get to the point already. And tell Ryan Gosling to come back out here while you’re at it.”

I felt irritated that I’d been made to watch all of segment two just to ineffectively throw me off the scent of the cycle. I felt exasperated that I was going to have to watch all of segment three just to find out how exactly I was going to be told what I already knew, after school special style.

Yes, there were some nice call-backs to segment one. Yes, there was some fine acting, particularly by the two sons who led the story (Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan) and Bradley Cooper’s older, none-wiser, Avery. That’s all, though. The story was leaden in its inevitability. The powerful message was both completely obvious and yet somehow hobbled by the hopeful ending.

What kind of noir has a hopeful ending?

That’s it. Now you know. Perhaps realizing what A Place Beyond the Pines is before you buy a ticket will make the experience more pleasant, but I doubt it.

6 responses on “A Few Thoughts on A Place Beyond the Pines

  1. Perhaps one day I will Netflix this and do what I did with the Planet of the Apes prequel: fast-forward but leave the subtitles on. That way, I only feel like I wasted 45 minutes instead of an hour and a half.

  2. The humanity indeed, but the Hindenburg it is not. I have been puzzled by this film’s ability to apparently reach into my soul. And I would be remiss if I did not disclose here, that in expecting a first child, perhaps I never stood a chance when I naively sat down in the theater, armed only with the vague snippets shown by the trailer.
    But despite my unbridled, school girl crush for this film, I agree with most of your review. Although I expected an engaging pic, I was unexpectedly stunned by the end of the first act. At the film’s conclusion, I too felt that the wind left the sails after Gosling departed, and the second and third acts felt underdeveloped. Liotta played Liotta. Contrary to your review though, I couldn’t stand Cohen; I have not decided if it was his screen presence or merely his character that repulsed me (though I’m fairly certain it was Cohen’s self-obsessed, half-baked Brando impression). And finally, the ending. Yes, the ending was lacking.
    But these flaws do not rob the picture of its strengths. The first ten minutes featured one of the most compelling openings that I’ve seen in years. For me, this film was a journey. And though this journey lead to a mundane conclusion, I could not betray the winding path that delivered me there. I think Cooper was good, but he stood in the shadow of Gosling who was nothing short of powerful in portraying his character’s arc. While I cannot deny the truth of most of your comments, I also cannot deny the truth of how this film affected me viscerally as well as philosophically, long after I left the theater.
    And for your heavy handed, unforgiving judgment of this delicate picture with all of its humanity, I would suggest that this is why you are called “Evil Genius”, instead of simply “The Genius” or even “Gentle Genius”. “Avuncular Genius”? Nope. Pure Evil.

  3. Oh, Fellow Traveler… I am sorry to have been so rough on poor little Pines, but I call ’em like I see ’em. In the dark surrounded by strangers.

    Describing this film to the Dr. Mrs. I said, “You know when you go to a concert and the first band is amazing and the second band is just fine? It was like that. You’re happy to ignore the second band.” And that was the biggest flaw of the film. Act I was all thrum. Engaging, well-done, visceral, and oozing empathy. Gosling was compelling and Mendelsohn is great. Everything else was just everything else, but it went on for another hour and a half, without Gosling, without the investment.

    It was like Neil Young opened for Green Day. Big mistake.

    I think that Cohen was supposed to be horrid, like the guy who plays King Joffrey on Game of Boobs. I bet he’s real sweet in real life and fosters kittens. Also, I have actually met people like that character so… uh. Yeah.

  4. Apology accepted. The concert analogy is a good one, and this is why I think your review’s conclusion eclipses the quality of the movie. Though less engaging than the first act, there is some decent development in the second act, even though the conclusion felt cheap. Overall, I still think it is a great story. I try not to second guess filmmakers, but perhaps they should have pared down the second act, and expanded the third?

    Anyway, Cohen’s acting just bothered me, I’m not sure why. While Joffrey is certainly whiny and annoying, I find his despicable character believable. But Cohen was so affected in his portrayal, it seemed to me like he was chewing the scenery, kind of like the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs (which was fantastic in that role), but it didn’t quite fit here.

    In any case, my respect for the power of the character study in Pines was renewed after I watched Oblivion tonite (I like sci-fi, and Kosinski does not disappoint when it comes to production value. But clever plotting is a different story. Zing.)

  5. Perhaps the difference in our impressions of Cohen lie in the fact that I think a boy like that would appear to be acting a part. He’s fronting, as the kids say these days. And that’s an authentic way to act.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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