Lost River

Lost River is notable as the directorial debut of actor Ryan Gosling. Certainly it is being marketed on this and, despite its very impressive cast, I suspect that without this strong connection to a highly bankable star it wouldn’t be finding itself on many big screens. As it is it is only showing in key cities and only in art house cinemas, Odeon have not picked it up at all.

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Clearly this does not mean it is a poor film, it is just a bit or a hard sell without its celebrity parentage. I’m just not sure how you would describe it. Urban gothic fantasy maybe, mystical social realism, modern folk tale noir, none of them seem to fit perfectly. Gosling, who also wrote the screenplay, has referred to it as a ‘dark Goonies’ but, awesome as that sounds, I’m not sure that really tells you what to expect either.

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The films it feels most like are things like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lady in the Water, Only God Forgives and to a lesser extent Drive. Films that tell bleak contemporary fairy stories.

Of course Only God Forgives and Drive both starred Gosling and were directed by Nicholas Winding Refn and Gosling has clearly been heavily influenced by these collaborations. Unfortunately Gosling is not as good a film maker as Winding Refn, not yet at least. The end result is reminiscent of Robert De Niro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, which itself borrowed heavily from his longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese. This gangster flick was inevitably considered against Scorsese’s own work in the genre and it simply couldn’t stand the comparison. So it is here, with the slowly building atmosphere, the brooding sense of threat, the sudden acts of graphic violence and the pop synth soundtrack, this looks like someone trying too hard to be someone else.
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The good thing is that Gosling has clearly made the film that he wanted to make, with no concessions to what a wide stream audience may want. Unfortunately, while doing this, he has still failed to come across as a new and distinct voice in cinema. Lost River is unconventional, uncompromising and unoriginal. A lost opportunity.
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There are some surprising and in places quite twisted and surreal ideas here (on occasion it also reminded me of Holy Motors) but there isn’t quite enough story or incident to sustain the relatively brief 95 minute running time. The plot centres around Iain De Caestecker’s Bones, trying to get along by scavenging for scrap copper in a derelict suburb of Detroit. He crosses the path of violent local hoodlum Bully, played by Matt Smith clearly trying very hard to get away from his famous signature role. Seriously, he couldn’t be less Doctor Who if he were appearing in a musical version of American Psycho. Saoirse Ronan is the girl next door who gets caught in the crossfire, Christina Hendricks is the mum and Ben Mendelsohn is the world’s creepiest manager of the world’s creepiest revue bar. All of these excellent actors do outstanding work in the film but they don’t quite have a story worthy of their performances.
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Lost River was derided at Cannes last year where many criticised the film for being overly contrived and artificially artistic but it isn’t that bad. The film is not pretentious, it is just failed ambition. Ryan Gosling may yet turn out to be a successful and respected director but regrettably he’s not there yet.
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Is this one for the kids?
Ew! Yuk, no. It kind of has dinosaurs in it but that’s not enough.
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The Ripley Factor:
Despite the more twisted and the more fantastical elements, Lost River plays out like social realism so most of the characters seem real and believable. The women Christina Hendricks and Saoirse Ronan portray are both victims in one sense but they also both show bravery.
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Women are objectified in the film, deliberately so, but not in a sexual way. Well certainly not in any sexual way that you would expect, there is no nudity. I could explain but to do so would be a spoiler. It’s by far the weirdest part of the movie and I’d hate to take away that element of repulsive surprise.
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There you go, some of you are curious to see it now aren’t you?
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