Wait, Ryan Gosling is a director now? When I read about this film last year and saw the trailer I was pretty excited – I’m a big Gosling fan and the idea of him moving behind the camera intrigued me. And then there’s the cast which includes great performers like Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn and Christina Hendricks. I was even lucky enough to get a tweet from Gosling around the time of the film’s release here in the UK last April, discussing the influence of Nicholas Winding Refn, his director in one of my all time favourite films, ‘Drive’. Sadly, the film got a bit of a beating by critics after its release, which put me off watching it somewhat, but I’m delighted to say that the critics are wrong. Not me though, I’m always right.
Set in a strange, almost apocalyptic city, single mother Billy (Hendricks), is struggling to pay the rent on her family home. Unwilling to leave the home, she takes a job at a bizarre and seedy cabaret bar, where the punters get their kicks from blood and torture. Meanwhile, her oldest son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) has his own problems, with the neighbourhood psychopath – the aptly named Bully (Matt Smith) -hunting him down for stealing copper on his patch. Is the city beneath the river at the heart of a mysterious curse which threatens to tear the family apart? Sounds spooky right? Damn right! I wouldn’t quite call this a horror movie, but it’s definitely a creepy one and was actually rather unsettling and uncomfortable to watch at times.
The ensemble cast all give stunning performances. Christina Hendricks for a start is incredibly authentic in her role as the desperate mother out of her depth in a fucked-up situation. A man who is fast-becoming one of the best actors around, Ben Mendolsohn, is outstanding as Dave, the bank manager turned club owner, whose sick fantasies put Hendricks’ character in that fucked-up situation. He even does a little dance at one point, which is equally riveting as it is disturbing. Saoirse Ronan too, adds another fantastic performance to her growing collection as Bones’ love interest, whilst Iain de Caesteckers – who I haven’t seen in anything before – is excellent as the film’s protagonist. Even Matt Smith, the man who once played Doctor Who, turns in an impeccable performance as a very convincing villain. Unfortunately his character is a little under-explored, but what we do get to see is pretty damn good.
It’s not just the acting which is fantastic in ‘Lost River’ though, and Ryan Gosling should be commended for putting together such a high quality debut feature. The influences of Nicolas Winding Refn are clear to see, with a plethora of neon lights and synth tracks which pay homage to the iconic ‘Drive’. But Gosling evidently wanted to stamp his own style on this project, and does so with absolutely breathtaking shot composition and locations. This is an atmospheric and stirring film with an experimental feel to it; which I imagine isn’t for everyone, but it is right up my street. The only criticism I might cast on ‘Lost River’, would be with regards to the story, which was written by Gosling. I think it was a good story, but not a great story and I did feel like certain aspects were left to be a little too ambiguous and mysterious. Had Gosling gone for a slightly longer runtime and perhaps explored the underwater city or the cabaret club a little more – two locations which underpin the intrigue factor of the film – we could well have had something really special on our hands.
As it is, ‘Lost River’ is a brooding and intense drama with all the dark and creepy trimmings you could ask for. Aesthetically, this film is a psychedelic work of art, but thematically it is lacking one last sucker-punch. If you like films like ‘Donnie Darko’, you’ll definitely enjoy ‘Lost River’, and if you know me, you’ll know that it’s a big compliment for me to mention any film in the same breath as ‘Donnie Darko’. I’m very excited to see what Gosling comes up with next, and just hope that the criticisms he’s faced with this film don’t put him off making another. You can catch ‘Lost River’ on Netflix currently, and a runtime of just over 90 minutes makes this a great film to dive into.
Director: Ryan Gosling
Starring: Iain De Caestecker, Christina Hendricks, Matt Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes