Luke and Romina
Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a locally-famous motorcycle stuntman working in a traveling act for state fairs. During the fair in Altamont, New York, Glanton gets a visit from ex-lover, Romina (Eva Mendes), and learns that he is the father of her son. Glanton quits his job as a stuntman to stay in town and provide for his child, but Romina does not want him in the childs life, as she has become involved in a relationship with Kofi (Mahershala Ali).
Glanton turns to Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), an auto repair shop owner, for part-time employment as he continuously attempts to insert himself into his sons life. Making only minimum wage, Glanton asks Robin for more money to care for his son. Robin reveals that he was once a bank robber, and offers to partner with Glanton to hit several banks in the area. The duo perform several successful heists, in which Glanton performs the robbery, then uses his motorbike as a getaway vehicle and drives it into an unmarked truck driven by Robin. Glanton uses the new money to win back Rominas trust and visits her and his son more often. Kofi objects to his presence and the two have an altercation at Kofis house, resulting in Glantons arrest for assault after he hits Kofi in the head with a pair of pliers.
After Robin has bailed him out of jail, Glanton immediately wants to resume their bank robberies. Robin objects, not wanting to press their luck, and the two have a falling-out that results in Robin dismantling the motorbike and Glanton taking back the bail money he owed Robin at gunpoint. Glanton attempts to rob a bank alone and is pursued by police. He falls off his bike during the chase and seeks refuge in a residents home, where he is pursued by Officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Glanton, sensing defeat, corners himself upstairs and calls Romina. Just before Cross confronts him, Glanton asks Romina not to tell their child about who he was. Cross enters the room and fires the first shot; Glanton falls out of the second-story window after shooting Cross in the leg. Cross looks out the window to find Glanton dead on the pavement.
Cross, who is a low-ranking officer, gains hero-status after his take-down of the notorious Glanton. Cross feels remorse about shooting Glanton, especially upon discovering that Glanton had a son, as Cross has an infant of his own. Cross's fellow officers Scotty (Gabe Fazio) and Deluca (Ray Liotta) are corrupt and unlawfully seize the robbed money from Romina's home and give the "lion's share" to Cross. Cross eventually explains the situation to his commanding officer, who dismisses the charges, unwilling to indict his own department. Still seeking justice, Cross manages to record a fellow officer asking him to illegally remove cocaine from the evidence locker Cross supervises for use in a separate case. Cross uses the recording to get a position as the assistant district attorney.
Jason and AJ
Fifteen years later, Cross is running for public office, and has to deal with his now teenage son AJ (Emory Cohen), who has gotten into trouble with drugs. Cross has separated from his wife (Rose Byrne) and agrees to take AJ into his home, transferring him into the local high school. There AJ befriends a boy named Jason (Dane DeHaan); neither AJ nor Jason knows that he is the son of Luke Glanton. The two are arrested for felony drug possession, and, when Cross is called in to pick up his son, he recognizes Jason's name. He uses his influence to get Jason's charge dropped to a misdemeanor and orders AJ to stay away from Jason (though the boys continue to talk).
Jason seeks the truth about his biological father, whom Romina refuses to discuss with him. His stepfather, Kofi, finally tells him his name. He googles his father's name and discovers Glanton's past. He visits Robin's auto shop, and Robin tells Jason more about Luke, including his superior motorbiking skills. Jason eventually realizes that AJ's father is the man who killed his father. After a fight with AJ, which leaves Jason hospitalized, Jason breaks into Cross's house and beats AJ at gunpoint. When Cross arrives, Jason holds him hostage and orders him to drive into the woods. Although Jason intended to kill Cross, he reconsiders after Cross tearfully apologizes for killing Jason's father. Jason takes Cross's wallet and suit coat and leaves Cross unharmed. In the wallet Jason finds a photo of himself as a baby with his parents, that Cross had stolen from the evidence locker.
Cross wins his bid for New York Attorney General, his son AJ at his side. Jason runs away from home and buys a motorbike, with the intention of heading west to make his own life as a traveler, like his father.