A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town.
The first film in the director’s chair from Ryan Gosling, ‘Lost River’, came out of Cannes last year with negative reviews and the critical perspective since has been mostly polarized. From my perspective, I’m going to land somewhere closer to the middle, finding the film to be too interesting to completely dismiss, yet too muddled and shapeless to be good. Gosling attempts to tell a lurid fantasy tale in the vein of David Lynch and frequent collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn, but his delivery lacks the understanding of what makes their work tick. The film indulgently brings ideas and images together without connecting them thematically, yet I found myself entranced by it to an extent, even amidst a plot that barely starts to make sense.
The film is ostensibly telling two stories about Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her eldest son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), following Billy as economic difficulties force her into a dangerous career, whilst tracking Bones as he tries to scrape together some money to help the family as a local thug (Matt Smith) is on his case. Through Bones interactions with Rat (Saoirse Ronan), he learns of a road leading to an underwater utopia. Beyond that outline, the film doesn’t really make much sense, with Gosling more interested in building on the film’s fantastical elements than crafting a coherent story. I think Gosling is trying to make a point about the economic turmoil driving people into less desirable lines of work, with the underwater city representing the homes and jobs that have been lost, but any point gets lost in the delivery.
A large part of what I did enjoy about the film was in the performances. Scottish actor Iain De Caestecker is best known to audiences for his performances in the mediocre Marvel TV spin off, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, and it’s good to see him given the opportunity to show his range and he’s particularly impressive here as ‘Bones’. A shaven headed Matt Smith is barely recognisable as the man who played Doctor Who, but his best efforts are shackled by poor writing, with his character coming off as a half hearted attempt to ape the madness of Dennis Hopper’s ‘Frank Booth’ from Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’. On Billy’s side, Christina Hendricks is a capable actress but she’s straddled in a weak plot that leaves her primarily in a strange, macabre underground club which feels like an amalgamation of many other weird nightclubs in better films or TV shows. This storyline does give us a lot of Ben Mendelsohn though, and that’s never going to be too bad!
‘Lost River’ is another film that makes excellent use of Detroit as its location, and it does excel in finding abandoned neighbourhoods and urban prairie to shoot many of its scenes. Following on from ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ and ‘It Follows’, this is another film showing the intriguing place that is post-financial crisis Detroit in all its glory. At the very least, ‘Lost River’ has introduced me to Johnny Jewel, who created the film’s outstanding electro score, which elevates the material to resonate much more than it really should. ‘Lost River’ is ultimately too flawed and messy to recommend, but it’s not a complete write off – there’s something interesting at play here, but only time will tell if it’s Ryan Gosling.
Directed By: Ryan Gosling
Starring: Iain De Caestecker, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Smith, Reda Kateb and Eva Mendes