Skip Navigation Links
Catholic News
Special Reports
Google Plus
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Place Beyond the Pines

Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes star in a scene from the movie "The Place Beyond the Pines."
We have the assurance of the Old Testament that the iniquity of a father will be visited upon his children (Nm 14:18). That happens more than once in "The Place Beyond the Pines" (Focus).

Director and co-writer (with Ben Coccio and Darius Marder) Derek Cianfrance elevates a standard crime drama into a wrenching and profound morality tale about ordinary lives caught in the balance between good and evil. Each life decision carries a high price that few wish to pay, with the debt -- and the consequences -- passed on to the next generation.

The film's title is also its setting, the titular phrase being one possible English translation of the Mohawk word from which the upstate city of Schenectady, N.Y., takes its name. The carnival comes to this depressed industrial burg, bringing with it "Handsome Luke" (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman who rides around the inside of a steel cage like a gerbil on steroids.

Luke is thrown for a different kind of loop when his ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes) comes to see his show. She has a surprise for him: a baby son. But Romina wants love, not a husband; she's living with Kofi (Mahershala Ali) and planning her future.

Fatherhood transforms Luke. Sneaking into a Catholic church to watch his son being baptized -- a rite depicted here with refreshing reverence and accuracy -- Luke has a tearful epiphany (the redemptive nature of water is a recurrent image throughout the film). He pledges to quit the circus, win Romina back, and provide for his new family.

Sensible fathers resolved on such a course would get a proper job. Luke instead decides to rob banks, relying on his motorcycle skills for smooth getaways. He hooks up with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), a demented auto-body mechanic and petty thief, to plan the heists.

They are initially very successful -- becoming, so to speak, the Clyde & Clyde of the Mohawk Valley. Flush with cash, Luke showers Romina and the baby with gifts, enflaming Kofi's jealousy. Then Luke beats Kofi to a pulp, and lands in jail.

Not, however, for long. More determined than ever, Luke resumes his life of crime, this time without Robin's help. "If you ride like lightning you're gonna crash like thunder," Robin warns.

That fall happens midway through the film, when "The Place Beyond the Pines" takes a dramatic turn. Avery (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop, gets his big break, tracking down the elusive bank robber. Like Luke, Avery has a baby son, and has high hopes for his future.

To elaborate further would spoil the outcome of the film. Suffice it to say that Luke and Avery's interaction has devastating consequences -- not only for them, but for their families, and, especially, their sons.

Cianfrance's picture offers a powerful message about temptation and relativism, as well as the role of conscience and the effect of one individual's actions on others; though the choices made by the conflicted characters are not, of course, always ideal ones.

The film contains action violence including gunplay, brief gore, frequent drug and alcohol use, a instance of distasteful humor, a scene of sensuality, and a couple of uses each of profane and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Search reviews at

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

Spiritual Resilience

World AIDS Awareness Day
An e-card from you will brighten someone's day. Let those who are ill know they're not forgotten.

St. Andrew
Legend says that this apostle, patron of Scotland, was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

First Sunday of Advent
Before dinner this evening gather your family to bless the Advent wreath and light one purple candle.

Remember also to give thanks for departed loved ones with whom you’ll someday be reunited.

Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)
Thanks be to God for our families, our homes, our lives. Happy Thanksgiving from Catholic Greetings and

Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic

An Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2015