Derek Cianfrance got a good idea of how well “The Place Beyond the Pines” was doing when he heard the sound of actor Bradley Cooper’s voice booming from a trio of illuminated billboards beaming down on a bustling Tokyo street last summer.
In Japan to shoot a commercial, the director wasn’t expecting to see a documentary about the making of his film playing in the capital, much less over one of its bustling electric intersections. Cianfrance said he paused to watch for a minute, taking in the bizarre juxtaposition of Tokyo and Schenectady.
“It was surreal to see Schenectady on giant monitors about the Tokyo cityscape,” he said in an email.
But it demonstrated some of the acclaim “Pines” received after it hit theaters in April. Now, nearly nine months after the film debuted in New York City and more than two years after it was shot almost exclusively in Schenectady, “Pines” is receiving a new round of accolades from film critics — some who consider it among their top 10 films of the year.
USA Today film critic Claudia Puig called “Pines” a “sweeping look at fateful decisions and their lasting reverberations.” She credits Cianfrance for assembling a star-studded cast and taking the narrative in unexpected directions.
“This saga of fathers and sons is almost a Shakespearean tragedy,” she said in her summary.
Richard Lawson, writing in Vanity Fair magazine, ranked “Pines” sixth among his top 10, placing the film between Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” and Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips.” In his summary, he credited Cianfrance for crafting a story classical in its scope and themes, but modern in its execution.
“A melodrama in the purest, most sublime sense, Derek Cianfrance’s rattling, rapturously novelistic tale of generational regret and legacy was pooh-poohed by some as an overwrought yarn,” he wrote. “But something about the film’s seething, summery Schenectady milieu connected with me on a gut level like usually only a good book can.”
“Pines” was named in Top 10 lists compiled by the Denver Post, the San Jose Mercury News and the Newark Star-Ledger newspapers. The film also received the praise of Justin Craig, a critic writing on foxnews.com.
“Derek Cianfrance’s morality play is a brooding, immersive experience with some of the best acting you will see all year,” he wrote. “The triptych format is unique, unsettling and brilliant as three seemingly unrelated stories unfold over two generations of characters. Packed with nail-biting suspense and strong, layered and morally ambiguous characters, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a phenomenal crime drama.”
A serial story told in three parts, “Pines” shows how one misstep can lead to a generation of turmoil. Actor Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a carnival stunt motorcycle rider who unexpectedly learns he has fathered a son with Romina, a Latino diner waitress played by Eva Mendes.
Learning about the child brings new meaning to the life of Gosling’s character, but also drives him to a life of crime. And a botched robbery intersects his path with Avery Cross — a rookie Schenectady cop played by Cooper — touching off a decades-long conflict between their two families.
The film was originally three hours and 30 minutes long. But Cianfrance was under contract to keep it under 140 minutes long — he came under by only one frame.
“Pines” grossed more than $39.6 million worldwide and $21.4 million in the United States, where it appeared in 1,584 theaters during its 91-day run. The movie was a smash in the Capital Region, where box office receipts rivaled those in the top five cities in the United States.
Released on Blu-ray and DVD in August, the film grossed $3.8 million in domestic sales. The total gross isn’t bad, considering the estimated $15 million production cost.
Filmed between mid-July and early September 2011, “Pines” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012 and was purchased by NBC Universal’s film division, Focus Features, three days later. The late March premiere in midtown Manhattan was followed by a local premiere in downtown Schenectady two weeks later.
“The movie did very well and I am very proud of it and happy for it,” Cianfrance said of the results. “You never know what is going to happen when you make something. I’ve made films that, once finished, nobody cared to see. It is a great feeling when a movie catches.”