Note: The best way to watch The Place Beyond the Pines is by knowing as little about it as possible, so, if you like the trailer, I’d recommend you watch it without talking to anyone or reading anything about it. I saw it this way and was blown away, which is why it is on this list. There are very slight spoilers below!
The narrative of The Place Beyond the Pines does not work like a traditional film. Critic Mark Kermode has repeatedly compared it to Greek tragedy, in which issues are passed on from one generation to another and there is a strong sense of fortune and destiny. This structure is highly unconventional for (semi-)mainstream cinema and works in most parts very well. The final part is clearly weaker than the preceding ones, but by that time, you are so compelled by the story it almost doesn’t matter.
Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, a very different but equally brilliant movie) mixes this epic narrative (the soundtrack, one of the year’s best, also gives it a sense of grandeur) with a gritty, ultra-realistic aesthetic; a combination which works surprisingly well. The cinematography is extraordinary and full of energy, particularly the bank robberies performed by Ryan Gosling in the first part, some of which were shot in a single take.
The Place Beyond the Pines, for all its faults, does many things that you don’t see very often in films, but does so in a very cinematic way. Most importantly, it completely surprised me (which doesn’t happen very often) and after that surprise kept on compelling me until the end.