Let's just get this out of the way so you can all carry on with the rest of your lives: if it's a spiritual sequel to Drive you're after, you're going to have to wait for Nicolas Winding Refn's tremendous-looking Thai western Only God Forgives .
Don't be fooled by the instantly iconic spectacle of peroxide Ryan Gosling on a motorbike: the second collaboration between the actor and director Derek Cianfrance is no angsty actioner but a triptych and a relay. Gosling's lost boy carny exits after the first chapter, leaving Bradley Cooper's cop to hold the fort. Brighter, younger things Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan, in turn, supersede Cooper as the film's central focus.
Cianfrance demonstrated a knack for time-lapsed character studies with his widely celebrated sophomore picture, Blue Valentine . The Place Beyond the Pines attempts something similar on a grander, intergenerational scale. Genre shifts come thick and fast: it's a romance between Gosling and Eva Mendes; it's a corrupt cop procedural starring Ray Liotta; it's Kids Gone Wild with Cohen and DeHaan.
The director's expanding canvas dilutes the immense emotional investment demanded by Blue Valentine . This film's homeopathic vengeance cycle doesn't quite wash: our time with each of the main players doesn't allow for closeness; the lack of focus makes for longueurs.
Still, Mike Patton's tremendous score adds considerable drama and the signifiers are lovely. If cinema hadn't been invented just over a century ago, would Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes even exist? What would Bradley Cooper do with him- self? Young DeHaan, the charismatic star of last year's Chronicle , has a compelling enough screen presence to match his older colleagues.
This is not a biker flick: it's a handsome displaced western. Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt ( Hunger ) transform contemporary Schenectady, New York into a frontier territory characterised by thick virgin forests and forlorn outposts. The film's twinned fathers – the "nogoodnik" attentive dad, the privileged neglectful one – play a Liberty Valance riff around larger issues pertaining to masculinity, America and economics.
It's clever, and it sounds ungrateful to complain that The Place Beyond the Pines (Mohawk translation: Schenectady) is ambitious to a fault. But Cianfrance is capable of shapelier cinema than this rough- hewn curiosity.