The switchblade knife is flicked forcefully and repeatedly in front of his well-defined abs and heavily tattooed body. He pulls on a sleeveless black top and begins striding across the carnival grounds, entering a big top tent with a flaming red leather jacket to the enthusiastic screams of fans. It looks like a clip out of a rock star’s biographical film, but Luke (played by 4-time Golden Globe award nominee, Ryan Gosling) is a different kind of badass- a motorcycle stunt performer.

But where his story really starts is when he sees his former fling, Romina (played by his real life beau Eva Mendes), and finds out he fathered a child with her. In the meantime, Romina hasn’t been waiting for him to do his paternal duty. To support her child, she juggles school and a minimum wage job to support herself. She also has a live-in boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who can provide a stable life, something she doubts Luke can give to her.

Hard up for cash to prove his ability to provide, Luke quits the travelling troupe and turns to a life of crime. A few small bank robberies later, he meets rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper, Golden Globe and BAFTA award nominee). A straight-laced law graduate with an acute sense of justice, Avery’s named the town hero when he brings down the moto-bandit, Luke, who has been plaguing their little town of Schenectady, N.Y.

When Deluca (Ray Liotta), Avery’s superior pulls a fake bust on Romina’s house to appropriate for himself the money Luke stole, Avery’s idealism crumbles as he finds himself sucked deeper into what he’s realising is a corrupt institution.

Fast forward 15 years and Avery has brought down his corrupt seniors, and he’s even running for public office. Busy and important, he doesn’t have the time when his high school aged son, AJ (Emory Cohen) requests to live with him instead of his ex-wife.

An underachiever, AJ befriends Jason (Dane Dehaan), Luke’s son. While neither boy knows how their lives intertwine, Avery recognises Jason and forbids AJ from ever speaking to him again. Things spiral out of control when Jason finds out about his father.

With an outstanding cast and great supporting roles, Pines tells a story of 2 generations and how what goes around comes around. While all arches tell a thrilling story from parent to child, the first of the 3 arches was the most compelling story. It is Luke’s life, and his eventual death, that impacts and fuels the other two, making them less impactful although just as well played.

In Pines, Cooper still manages to live up to his performance in Silver Linings Playbook to give us a honest portrayal of his character. Matched with Gosling’s trademark well-meaning characters with emotional struggles, the film show us some truly good acting.

The film makes you think about how some things fall into place without planning, like how Romina never meant to have a child, or how AJ and Jason were almost fated to cross paths. It is also about how good people with good intentions can also make decisions that haunt them. With its muted colours and dark undertones, the cinematography brings out the raw edge of the film.

Director Derek Cianfrance brings back another character study. After his last movie on the decaying marriage between a young couple (Blue Valentine), Cianfrance once again puts on screen an unnerving show of people on the fringe. With this crime drama, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, whether it’s a fall off a bike, a punch to the face, or the firing of a gun. The film shows you the flaws in its characters and keeps you unsettled in the best way.

Rating: 4/5

Release Date: Apr 4

Runtime: 2 hrs 20 min

Language: English

Censorship rating: M18

Genre: Drama

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Main actors: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes