When it premiered at Cannes festival last year, Ryan Gosling’s hotly anticipated directorial debut ‘Lost River’ was panned almost unanimously, which, as a fan of him as an actor only made me more intrigued to see it. Since the negative initial reaction, it has been tweaked and tinkered for its cinema release with a little shaved off the running time. The title refers to the environment in which the film takes place, a warped wasteland where the American Dream has gone horribly sour. The intertwining plotlines follow three main characters in struggling single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks), her eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and their neighbour Rat (Saoirse Ronan) as they desperately try to better themselves and their lives, looking for a way out of a decaying habitat with no economic promise. Plucking apparent influences from his pool of experience within the industry, the first-time filmmaker forges his own vision of fractured dreams peppered with fantasy neo-noir elements and striking imagery.
The marketing of the release sprung obvious comparisons to the work Gosling has done with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, and the neon-tinged palette and occasional usage of extreme violence brings that to fruition. However, I feel there is more of relation to his collaborations with Derek Cianfrance in terms of the narrative, like the spiritual cousin of The Place Beyond The Pines if you will. As the story develops and begins to take shape, Billy and Bones take risks to make ends meat and keep their family afloat, and events turn from strange to downright bizarre. Throughout though it remains both visually and audibly interesting, the spellbinding soundtrack from Johnny Jewel providing haunting nostalgia.
The success slips slightly in the core performances of the piece, and I was left wanting a little more from Hendricks and De Caestecker. Perhaps the characters fall victim to drowning in the heavy scenery. Memorable villainous turns come instead from the supporting cast, with Aussie bad boy Ben Mendelsohn steps in with real menace as a sadistic Lynchian-lunatic and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith bellowing expletive-laden chants to mark his turf, viciously taking scissors to those who cross him. The souls that dwell in the utopian-fairytale setting of ‘Lost River’ are radical, often completely unbelievable, but fascinating to be in the company of.
It can be argued that none of Ryan Gosling’s vivid ideas are his own in his first dabble into both writing and directing a motion picture. Conversely, if you’re going to beg, steal and borrow from those that inspire you as an artist, he’s chosen an eclectic bunch, and importantly includes a flavour of the cool guy personality he has an actor to the proceedings. His Hollywood reputation has unfairly preceded him in the infancy of his career in the director’s chair, and his work appears to be getting judged only on its intrepid and admittedly copycat style rather than the subtleties of its substance. Putting this to one side, as a feature debut, ‘Lost River’ is bold, brave and dare I say it, brilliant.