rating: 4.5Isn't it refreshing when a movie trailer doesn't give everything away? Along that bent, it's safe to say that The Place Beyond the Pines might not be what many viewers are expecting; in fact, it's a lot better - an ambitious, deceptively small-scale drama painted on a huge, sprawling canvas. Expertly acted and constructed with a workmanlike level of dedication, this is one drama about inter-connected lives that doesn't strain for cosmic significance, instead grasping at something a lot more honest, and considerably more affecting as a result. Ryan Gosling takes on the familiar role of a stuntman (trading his car for a motorcycle this time) named Luke, who turns bank robber when he finds out he has fathered a son with former lover Romina (Eva Mendes). However, Luke's increasing desperation, even hubris, means it's not long before an enthusiastic hotshot cop named Avery Cross (Cooper) begins clipping at his heels, and the two are sent on a collision course that changes their lives - and those of their loved ones - forever. To say more than that pruned synopsis would be to do a huge injustice to Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to his stunning debut Blue Valentine (one of the best films of 2010). All you need to know is that Pines is a diverting surprise, a filmmaker's maturation from helming an achingly intimate drama to an epic meditation on the sins of fathers and the consequences they breed for their sons. Some might see the tripartite structure of the story - divided into three roughly equal segments - as a tad procedural, but it's in the service of a grander idea that is anything but procedural. Lensed with gorgeous naturalism by Steve McQueen's frequent director of photography Sean Bobbitt, we see these amorphous characters constantly changing shape around a drab rural New York locale that never seems to change even as the decades pass. This notion seems to be the key tenet the film is constantly driving towards; it is easy for humans to become subject to not just the life they are born into, but their surroundings as well. Cianfrance's daring material is abetted by a cavalcade of barnstorming performances, and in fact, there isn't a weak link among the bunch. If Gosling is the natural focal point from the start - he is the first figure we see, and remains so for quite a while - it is Bradley Cooper who, after showing up almost an hour into the film, completely runs away with the picture. Delivering easily the best performance of his career to date, Cooper dares to play Cross as an understated overachiever, seemingly oblivious to what is expected of him, and unsure where to turn when it all begins to implode. The rising star resists the temptation to dabble in histrionics and is consequently remarkable. As the two men's respective lovers, Eva Mendes gets to rip through her best material in years, while Rose Byrne is as reliable as ever in a smaller role. Other notable performances include Ray Liotta as a shady cop on Cross' team, Ben Mandelsohn as Luke's partner in crime, and Dane DeHaan - who came to prominence in last year's superb Chronicle - in a role that frankly, the less you know about, the better. A film that the old will likely look upon with a certain pained nostalgia for their own youth, while younger viewers might take it as a cautionary tale of what's to come, it's a dramatic workout whatever your interpretation. The deliberate pace and demanding runtime might be too much for some, but those prepared to follow these characters through the ashes of time - specifically viewers who loved the director's last film - are likely to find themselves right at home. Go in knowing as little as possible and prepare to be blown away by Derek Cianfrance's American crime drama masterpiece. The Place Beyond the Pines is in UK cinemas this Friday.