Tying in drama, fantasy, darkness and suburban American life, Ryan Gosling’s feature as debut director is a far cry from the interesting piece it could have been. It received both a chorus of cheers and boos when it premiered at Cannes and it isn’t difficult to see why. It has some neat moments but comes to a sticky mess of ideas that feel majorly pretentious.
In a neighbourhood losing houses fast and emptying of folk lives single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) who is trying her best to keep her home and raise her boys. Bones (Ian De Caestecker) is the eldest who learns from Rat (Saoirse Ronan) that the town is cursed and a beasts head must be removed to stop it. Against shady bankers and twisted criminals, ‘Lost River’ is a place in dire need of saving and fast.
You instantly get that feeling from this film that Ryan Gosling has picked up some mannerisms from ‘Drive’ mentor Nicolas Winding Refn. The surreal and mostly slow pace to the film builds that dream like sense that both ‘Drive’ and ‘Only God Forgives’ had. Though this fantastical tale sadly falls into the weird and not wonderful category that ‘Only God Forgives’ is in. It’s a bit too much of all things and though the style is there, it over runs substance or can even feel indulgent.
Great shots and interesting cinematography stop you completely nodding off in this obscene dream landscape and some frankly odd neon set ups showcase that Gosling has some potential in crafting some different to the norm, but I believe it’s something that needs a lot of honing because even for the off circuit festivals and art house places this movie suffers from being less than subtle and disturbing in the story it’s telling.
Ryan Gosling also writes, showing he really means it when he wants to step down from the acting lark he was involved in. He is truly a better director than writer. The script incorporates a lot of themes and ideas that feel like an acid Alice in Wonderland style trip, character names are the least obvious trait that this film will take you somewhere unexpected. A nightclub portraying bloody acts, underwater towns and a Miss Havisham granny play their parts in this mix of nightmares.
The music, I must mention is top notch listening. He’s clearly picked up a knack of hearing fine electronic sounds that wash nicely into your ears, tunes that gently provide that backdrop for a cool nighttime drive. Of course it pales in comparison to the vibe of ‘Drive’ and that soundtrack but Johnny Jewel’s score helps the film stun the senses.
Christina Hendricks is a fine actress, getting the emotional mother role to play, she becomes stronger as she falls further down the rabbit hole. Saoirse Ronan is masterful in everything I’ve seen her in. A beautiful young actress who gives this Rat character guts, fear, intrigue and kindness that feels the most real amongst the other characters. Ian De Caestecker doesn’t do much for me here, it’s a good enough role but not enough to break the mould I see of him from ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’. Ben Mendelsohn rises up here in a thoroughly creepy portrayal as no nonsense Dave. The almost still facial expression and slither of his push towards Billy is gross and Mendelsohn can rival Oscar Isaac’s dance from ‘Ex Machina’ with the moves he puts on show in this film. Matt Smith shaves his hair, buffs up and plays a nasty bully aptly named Bully. It’s a panto sort of role but he does sell this villainous crime lord well.
It might seem unfair to call it a mess because it does have some magical imagery and cool ideas but it’s not something that evoked any strong desires to watch it again, think of it other than to write this up or recommend it to anyone else. I can say I’m glad I saw it to witness Gosling’s clear knowledge of building atmosphere and lucid fairy-tale points and that’s about that.