Mainstream audiences may be disappointed that this isn't a gritty thriller pitting the acting talents of Gosling and Cooper against each other, as it's instead a boldly artful, often moving drama. The three-part structure may soften the emotional punch, but a raw script and intimate direction let the actors find real resonance in every scene.
The title is a loose translation of the Mohawk word Schenectady, the New York town where the story is set. In the first section, carnival stunt rider Luke (Gosling) returns to town and tries to rekindle a previous fling with Romina (Mendes). When he discovers that his last visit produced a son, he decides to leave the circus and settle down, taking a job with a local mechanic (Mendelsohn). To make some extra cash, the two team up to rob banks, which puts Luke on a collision course with beat cop Avery (Cooper), who has a wife (Byrne) and young son of his own. Years later, their now-teen sons Jason and AJ (DeHaan and Cohen) discover a past connection they knew nothing about.
To explore the generational ramifications of these men's actions, the film switches perspective twice, first from Luke to Avery and finally to Jason and AJ. But the script never simplifies anyone into "good" or "bad": these are complex people facing difficult situations the best way they can. And sometimes their choices lead to tragic consequences. With this structure, though, the characters are somewhat fragmented, and only Avery emerges as a fully rounded figure, giving Cooper the best role in the film as he becomes unable to work out what is right and wrong, even though he knows it in his gut.
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