DVD REVIEW: LOST RIVER
Ryan Gosling, part cult actor part meme, came to the world's attention in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive as the quiet anti-hero ready to crush someone's face in with his cowboy boots. Now the actor has made the jump from in front of the camera to behind it, with his directorial debut Lost River.
Gosling's first film behind the camera takes place in a Detroit style derelict city and follows the story of Bones (Ian De Castecker) a young boy trying to make ends meet for his mum (Christina Hendricks) by stripping copper out of abandoned buildings, while also falling for the girl across the road Rat (Saoirse Ronan). But he soon finds himself on the wrong side of the local psychopath, Bully (Matt Smith) who has a penchant for defacing people with scissors and sparkly jackets. Meanwhile Billy, Bones' mum, takes up a job offer from the thoroughly unsettling Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), a bank manager who also owns a macabre BDSM night club. For a ninety minute film, Gosling sure does pack his debut with a lot.
It always helps a first time director to have a stellar cast around him and sure enough Gosling has gathered an enviable list of actors in Drive co-star Christina Hendricks, his own wife Eva Mendes, Hollywood's go to weirdo Ben Mendelsohn, relative newcomer Ian De Caestecker and one of the best actresses of her generation Saoirse Ronan. The cast put there all into the little they are given, especially Ronan who is going from strength to strength with some diverse and eclectic roles. But the film's main talking point is Matt Smith in his first post-Doctor Who role. Unlike his most famous role, Bully is a sadistic psychopath who enjoys chopping off the lips of the people stupid enough to cross him. It's clear Smith loves playing the character but he fails to feel fully fleshed out, there is an interesting character calling out for more to play with.
Many critics have lambasted Gosling's debut for being a pastiche of his previous collaborators and influences. There are obvious signs of Refn, Derek Cianfrance, Terrence Malick and the BDSM nightclub reeks of David Cronenberg's examination of voyeurism in his cult classic Videodrome but there are signs of Gosling's own directorial style. It is in this clash of styles that the film begins to feel flawed. The mix of influence and individuality feel juxtaposed, with Dave's macabre nightclub feeling too far from the underwater town. Not only that, thematically they clash and visually mismatch. The nightclub has neon touches of Harmony Korine and surrealist elements of David Lynch's work about it but Bones' story feels individual to Gosling. The director passionately creates a cocktail of influences, inspiration with a healthy measurement of individuality but this individuality that is so compelling and interesting in Bones' story is undermined by the banality of the nightclub. Gosling piles everything into ninety minutes as if he fears he won't get another chance to make another film.
There is a masterpiece in the derelict debri of Bones' story, it's beautifully eerie and genuinely compelling but fails to sit seamlessly alongside his mother's arc.Ideas are dotted about the film but not all of them join up, some linger and become lost in Gosling's over ambition and others feel interestingly ambiguous. As a whole Lost River is a difficult film to fall in love with, it paints a beautiful image, Bones discovering the lost town and a house ablaze stay in your mind long after the film's credits roll but the film suffers under the weight of it's directors ambition. Yet, it is difficult to not admire Gosling's attempt at breaking the mould and creating something that swings for the fences. And it's this attempt that saves the film from being a failed mess to an ambitious misfire.