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

Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.

Spiritual Resilience

St. Andrew Dung-Lac
Our common faith is our greatest treasure. Join Vietnamese Catholics around the world in honoring this 19th-century martyr.

With Thursday’s menu planned and groceries purchased, now is the time to send an e-card to far-away friends.

Christ the King
Our liturgical year ends as it begins, focusing on Our Lord’s eternal reign.

Christ the King
Our liturgical year ends as it begins, focusing on Our Lord’s eternal reign.

The Faithful Departed
An e-card can be a gentle reminder to pray for loved ones who have died. Choose one from

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