Back to IndieWire

Division Division: ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’

This Week's Divisive Film

When there’s no critical consensus on a movie, the film gets sent to Criticwire’s Division Division where we measure the arguments on both sides.

There is nothing quite like a film that reaches for the stars. They aren’t terribly common, but when they do come around, you can see the outline of the conversation: Some say it’s a remarkable, one-of-a-kind story that hits all the right notes, others say it’s an admirable mess, a victim of its own scope. But whether it’s a triumph or a disaster, it’s always quite an experience. “The Place Beyond The Pines” may not quite be on the level of “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Tree of Life,” but, to quote from Jordan Hoffman’s review, it’s “an adaptation of a great American novel that never was,” and that’s the kind of film that might be even rarer than the spiritual journeys of Kubrick, Malick, and Tarkovsky. So the only question that needs to be answered is, just how great of an adaptation of the never-written Great American Novel is it? As you would expect, critics can’t decide.

PRO: The scope of the story alone makes for a good movie.

“Nevertheless, as unwieldy as ‘The Place [Beyond the] Pines can be, it’s difficult not to be impressed by what Cianfrance has pulled together and the skill with which he’s done it.”Andrew Welch, In Review Online

CON: Each act is less impressive than the previous.

This awkward mid-section of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ plays exactly like the Hollywood police dramas that riddle cinema’s history books…Then, things only get worse when writer-director Derek Cianfrance jumps the shark — I mean, narrative — 15 years into the future, setting the story up for one of the most cliched cinematic tropes known to humankind.”Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit

PRO: It’s rich with ideas!

“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.”Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

CON: …but it’s very heavy-handed.

“Hardly a subtle stylist, Cianfrance beats on the paternal issue like a rented mule. A talented editor could probably rescue a respectable short from the Glanton section, but with its taxing one hundred and forty minute running time, ‘Beyond’ is simply far too long and overly melodramatic.”Joe Bendel, Libertas Film Magazine

PRO: The cast is skilled and discreet.

“Cianfrance leaves much to the subtleties of the plot to his cast. It’s no surprise that Gosling delivers a tough, moody role that’s still riddled with pathos. Cooper, however, has never been better.”Eric Kohn, Indiewire

CON: …but characters are second to plotting.

“Throughout, Cianfrance fast-forwards through the deep stuff — the compulsion that draws Romina to the amusement park, the marital strain that must have led Avery (Cooper) and Jennifer (Rose Byrne) to divorce — so as to give prominence to the (melo)drama of the characters stumbling upon their shared histories.”Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine

PRO: It’s never too sentimental, even though it easily could be.

“My biggest takeaway from ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ has to do with the power of avoiding sentimentality — or just hinting at it — in situations that seem to beg for it. This is the stuff of soap opera, but the emotional beats come in quick, powerful jabs or faint callbacks to something introduced earlier.”Eugene Novikov, Film Blather

CON: …but it takes itself too seriously.

“The movie’s soulful self-seriousness, like that of its liquid-eyed hero, can occasionally slip into self-parody.”Dana Stevens, Slate

PRO: It looks great!

“The movie looks great throughout, blending action, urban drama and family melodrama with a dark, thrumming undertone that holds them together.”Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

CON: …but also kind of haphazard.

“Aesthetically, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is an unwieldy mix of psychological realism and visual impressionism, so Cianfrance’s characters’ dialogue is deliberately coarse while his film’s mise-en-scene is distractingly mannered.”Simon Abrams, Chicago Sun-Times

Many things about “The Place Beyond The Pines” are largely agreed upon: Its story is novelistic in its ambition, it’s uneven across the many acts, with several great performances and a risk-taking, confident, and talented director. The disagreement comes largely from just how extreme people feel about this: How much better is the first act than the second, and the second from the third? Just how often does it take itself too seriously? Does the dialogue guide you or just spell everything out? Is the bold visual style helpful or distracting? It’s receiving mostly positive reviews, and many critics say it’s the type of movie that is not attempted often enough. I haven’t seen it myself, but I plan to. You should too, because this sounds like a conversation you don’t want to miss, and like a movie that demands to be seen.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox