Lost River was a film that absolutely bombed at the film festival circuit and was received by largely negative reviews. This is Ryan Gosling trying his hand at directing side of things, what I expected from his film, was that it would be largely influenced by Nicholas Winding Refn, whom he has worked with on Drive and Only God Forgives. (There is actually a scene in My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn where Refn gives Gosling a blanket after he learns he is set to direct his first film)
For this film Gosling assembled an extremely packed cast including Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Ben Mendelsohn. However, leading the crew is Iain De Caestecker playing the role of Bones, the older son of Billy (Christina Hendricks) who reside in a lonely derelict area of Detroit, Michigan. Gosling establishes how bad the area is in the opening credits roll, showing empty buildings, schools and even vegetation taking control of the houses.
The living condition and situation is set in place with the first conversation had between Bones and a neighbour leaving his home and heading elsewhere. He talks of fear and getting out of Lost River before he regrets it. This fear that runs amuck in Lost River is led by Bully (Matt Smith with a shaved head). The gas station scene with Bully and Mary Lou (aka Mama Aris) was a strange one to watch unfold as they go back and forth introducing themselves, until Bully gets offended. This isn’t before sharing a dance with her, it really is a strange scene.
This dancing on a knife-edge with Bully is present throughout the film as he seems like quite a on-edge character. For letting Bones go he cuts off his right-hand man’s lips, giving him a look that wouldn’t go amiss in the new Mad Max: Fury Road. The same goes for the the scene where he cuts off Rats head, simply for knowing bones after everything appeared to be going swimmingly between the two. This can be construed as a revenge act by Bully on Bones after their feud goes back and forth.
With the destruction of properties through fire or destruction by the government, it serves as a reminder that some places in the world face this reality, although probably not to the extreme that Gosling presents. The hard times that has fallen on Billy’s family leads Bones to strip copper from abandoned houses and sell it on, however with Bully roaming the streets screaming “This is my country, don’t let me see your motherfucking face again” inducing this panic and fear shadow that Bully casts. Which leads to my favourite scene of the film, the flaming bicycle and also the start of the aforementioned feud between Bully and Bones.
All the bad things that happen to Lost River is down to Rat’s superstition of the curse that has been placed on the town. Bones finds headlights that go down into a lake, to which Rat shows him the infomercial-esque video that explains about the towns being drowned by the reservoir. This placed a curse on the town and the curse is only broken by something underneath the water being brought to the surface.
Casting I thought was one of Gosling’s strengths in the film, as the whole cast I’d say gave a strong performance. From the rage-induced Matt Smith to even the creepy club-owner Ben Mendelsohn. One thing I didn’t have time for at all during this film was the feature of The Shelf, some place where the women in the club can make more money. I’m unsure of what the idea behind this purpose was, as it only added the mess and confusion of the film.
All in all, this film ultimately becomes a tale about revenge. Revenge for the pain and fear that Bully has cast over Lost River, but this fairytale revenge doesn’t actually occur, or gain traction until the last half hour, which is when the film builds up. Between the plot points there is a lot of empty ground or blank space.
One thing that can be said is that Gosling knew how to build suspense, even if it was in the last half hour of the film. From the gas station scene with Bully and Rat onwards, the suspense of Bones’ actions is built, climaxing with the final face off between the hero and villain so to speak.
The film is messy, incredibly messy. But there sparks of fascinating work by Gosling, some shots are beautiful, the effects are incredible with the horror/burlesque club showcased by the scene where Billy cuts off her own face. The music is tantilising especially the Chromatics theme where Rat and Bones are out on a ‘date’, but there are indications that the soundtrack was largely influenced by Drive. That isn’t a necessarily bad thing however, because Drive’s soundtrack was largely one of the best things about the film. One thing is clear from Lost River, I believe that Gosling has shown that he has potential as a director.