Written and Directed by Ryan Gosling / Starring Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Ben Mendelsohn and Saoirse Ronan.
Bones: Looks like we’re the only ones left.
Not only does Ryan Gosling have an impressive roster of acting roles, but the thespian has also worked with some of the strongest directors in the business. While he turned out great performances in film’s such as DRIVE and BLUE VALENTINE, Gosling is still known best for his pretty boy roles in films like THE NOTEBOOK and CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. It is perhaps for these reasons that many were skeptical when Gosling announced he would be writing and directing his first film, LOST RIVER. Many were prepared to hate the film when it debuted at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and this was largely what happened. As the film’s credits rolled, the response from the audience was a mixture of cheers and boos. If we take away our idea of “Ryan Gosling” away from LOST RIVER though, we are left with a stylish and bleak tale of a depression struck town.
LOST RIVER follows single mother Billy (Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) as she struggles to pay her bills whilst raising two sons. Her eldest, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) spends his days stripping metal from abandoned houses so that he can sell it and help his mother. Bones has gotten the attention of Bully (Dr. Who’s Matt Smith), a ruthless outlaw who has claimed all the scrap metal in the area. Knowing that Billy is in quick need of cash, her bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) sets her up with a job at a burlesque club he owns. Billy journeys to the club managed by Cat (Eva Mendes), which provides patrons with bloody murder performances in the style of Dario Argento. Meanwhile, back at home, Bones begins to bond with his lonely neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan).
Gosling’s film seems to be an amalgamation of the styles of the directors he has worked with and those he admires. There is quite a bit of Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn in the film, which is also clearly influenced by the works of David Lynch. These influences seem to come and go throughout the film. One minute it feels like Lynch’s BLUE VELVET, the next it abruptly morphs into Refn’s ONLY GOD FORGIVES. These sudden changes of style give the film a schizophrenic quality that ultimately augments LOST RIVER’s unsettling mood.
Aside from the ensemble, Gosling has assembled quite a team for his directorial debut. Cinematographer Benoît Debie (SPRING BREAKERS) brings his A-game to the film. He manages to make the ugliness of rundown Detroit look beautiful with his often Terrence Malick-like shooting style. At other times, Debie depicts the full carnality of the landscape.
Ultimately, the plot of LOST RIVER is a bit thin, but the film is truly at its best when Gosling embraces his experimental side and lets things run rampant. Hendricks is dazzling as Billy, showing new depths to her skills as an actress, which are often not fully explored on Mad Men. While the film may be too over-the-top for some, those willing to submit to its chaotic style will truly be rewarded, and hopefully moved.