One of my most anticipated films of 2015 is Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. From what I read, the idea for the film came out of Gosling’s collaborations with Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive & Only God Forgives) and as such I expected something similar to those films. Even the fact that the the score for Lost River would be handled by Johnny Jewel from the Chromatics and Glass Candy, who was the original composer for Drive, gave me hope for the film. And with such an impressive cast, how wrong could things go? Very wrong, as it turns out, because Lost River might just be one of the worst films I have ever seen.
Lost River is the name of an almost abandoned city where our story is set. Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother, is several months behind on her house payment and visits the bank looking for aid. She is received by an eerie man named Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) who tells her about a club where someone like her can make money. Unsure but desperate, Billy visits the club and enters a dark underworld with a macabre fetish. Meanwhile, her eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) is attempting to help his mom by scrapping copper from abandoned buildings. In one of his visits, however, Bones encounters self-pronounced mad king of copper Bully (Matt Smith). Evidently, Bully is not pleased with some kid taking his copper and decides to make an example out of Bones.
It only took ten minutes for the film to tell me that all my expectations were severely misplaced. Lost River is nothing like Drive or Only God Forgives and to compare it with them is an insult. On the one side, I am glad this is the case as it make it easier to analyze Lost River on its own merits. On the other side though, being similar to those other two films could have made Lost River into actually enjoyable film. As it stands, Lost River is not only exceedingly dull but also eccentric to such a self-indulgent level that watching the film is a struggle. It is not so much that things do not make sense, but Lost River has all the qualities of someone who clearly does not understand how to adequately craft a story. If you look close enough, you see that there is a simplicity in the film convoluted to extremes by writer/director Ryan Gosling.
Personally speaking, Ryan Gosling is easily one of the best actors working today. He is an actor who can easily jump from genres and deliver rich performances. As a writer and director, Ryan Gosling is completely out of his depth. Like I said, the story of the film is actually pretty straight forward. The dialogue suffers from time to time and none of the characters ever feel like actual human beings, which is understandable since the film slightly establishes that all these events are occurring in some fantasy ultra-realistic living nightmare. The main problem with Lost River is the direction, the approach to the material is so excessive like a little kid doing crazy shit exclusively for the attention. The mentality here is to turn the real to surreal, but Gosling makes things so weird and incoherent that there is no chance for us as the audience to connect with what we’re seeing. This is especially troubling when it comes to the characters, because if we don’t feel anything for them then what we are left with is the aesthetics of the film, which are not remotely interesting. Gosling employs a lot of neon lights thinking they’d look cool but they come off looking ridiculous, forced and, worse of all, like a blatant attempt to compare his film to Drive and Only God Forgives. There is also a lot of repetition in the way the shots are framed, like the constant shots of a single person standing just off center amongst tall grass. This comes off less like a motif and more like someone simply recycling ideas. The film lacks focus and the fact the story is essentially split in two, evidently, complicates matters. Lost River jumps from one character to another and we never spend enough time with one to care. It does not help that even though we know the characters’ motivation, their actions still feel off as if they are mere pawns to the plot.
One of the questions that I kept asking myself, while debating whether it was worth it to continue watching Lost River, is in regards to the cast. Why did they agree to this? Whatever the reason might be, one can’t help but feel that the cast is indulging Ryan Gosling. None of them do anything particularly interesting or memorable. I like that Christina Hendricks is the lead in the film but she seems perpetually uncomfortable to be a part of it. There is no charisma in her performance, no real reason to feel anything for her character beyond pity. She is boring and allows herself to be placed in a situation she knows can only end badly. Iain De Caestecker fares even worse. It is kind of funny too, because his character is a slight proxy of the characters Ryan Gosling played in Drive and Only God Forgives. It backfires splendidly so much so that his involvement here constantly screams mis-cast. Ben Mendelsohn and Saoirse Ronan are both beautifully wasted in this film and lastly we have Matt Smith, who is the only one that seems to understand what Gosling was going for here. Smith performance is crazy but fun to watch. He draws you in with his weirdness and his unpredictability creates a lot of tension. When he is on screen the film almost works, you can almost see what the point is, but unfortunately Matt Smith has minimal screen time.
Ryan Gosling’s Lost River is not the film I expected. While a small part of me is glad to see an original idea in film, some original ideas are best discarded or at very least given to someone with more experience. The downfall of this film is Ryan Gosling. As a writer, he has a poor handle on story and an even worse one on characters. The characters here are but fantastical construct that as the film develops feel less and less human. They are not interesting and their overall comfort with gory violence is off-putting and at odds with the characters themselves. The dialogue, especially, is just appalling in its incoherence. Worse of all is the direction. Ryan Gosling complicated everything by injecting scenes with elements that not only distract but also feel redundant, invasive and exceedingly self-indulgent. Lost River is clearly the work of an eccentric, an eccentric without real experience assembling a film, an eccentric that feels more and more like a hipster film student given a big budget to realize his strange a dream he had. This is a hollow film perpetually at odds with itself and even though I admit that Lost River could’ve been interesting, the end result is an annoying mess that should definitely be skipped.