Derek Cianfrance's (Blue Valentine) drama about fathers and sons, and the choices that relationship inspires (or demands) is told in three interconnected tales. In the first, Ryan Gosling portrays an itinerant stunt motorcyclist who, after discovering he's fathered a child, decides to stick around Schenectady, N.Y., and be a dad. Drawing support from a weirdo mechanic father figure, he takes to robbing banks to provide cash. On the other side of town, a young, ambitious cop (Bradley Cooper) discovers that the ugly reality of his job creates distance between himself, his young son and the older cops who mentor him. The third act plays out in the future, as the two now-teen-age sons of the cop and the robber collide with the messy history left unfinished by their dads.
At times, the work has an agreeable sprawl, particularly in the motorcyclist's story, where the dead air surrounding his life feels palpable, and is countered only by daredevil behavior, vividly captured in a few verve-filled action pieces. But as Pines goes on, it grows more bloated and even hokey; too many plot points feel convenient to the larger thematic arc rather than organic. Gosling's story is the most interesting — and he's an old hand at delivering that wounded-and-dangerous-but-still-charismatic thing. Cooper simply doesn't have the acting chops to convey the cop's emotional struggles, and by the third tale, the two teens are barely more than TV-movie cut-outs, playacting predictable turmoil.