PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount


No-one likes a pretentious smart-arse. This was aptly demonstrated last May at the Cannes Film Festival when much-admired actor Ryan Gosling’s first attempt in the director’s chair, Lost River, was largely greeted with hoots of derision and catcalling as its end credits rolled. Rotten fruit and bricks may have been thrown at the screen too; we weren’t there so we can’t say for sure. Presumably chastened by the critical mauling his movie firstborn received, Gosling slunk away to lick his wounds and carry out some judicious rescue work on his savaged cinematic child. Ten months later and Lost River is back, a good ten minutes shorter and, we might hope, with some of its flaws ironed out and its narrative tightened. Not quite. Gosling should have saved himself the bother; this is pretty unsalvageable stuff. Lost River is an unholy mess.

The film’s main problem - and God knows it’s got more than its fair share - is that Gosling has allowed himself to get too wound up by the simple fact that he’s directing a movie. He’s clearly so focussed on creating something striking and artistic and visionary (and inspired by heroes such as Terence Malik and David Lynch) that he’s instead made something derivative and clumsy and concerned himself more with imagery and ideas rather than character and story. Lost River is studded with striking sequences depicting burning buildings, urban decay, an eerie submerged underwater landscape and scenes full of unpleasant people doing unspeakable things, but none of it amounts to anything because the film’s story, like the sunken town which obsesses de Caestacker’s Bones, is drowned under the weight of Gosling’s desire to impress us with his stylishness and his singular vision for the warped world he’s conjured up. But, as we might have mentioned, no-one loves a pretentious smart arse…

Yet for all its faults Lost River remains a movie it’s hard to walk away from. Filmed in and around the crustier suburbs of Detroit, it’s set in the titular town of Lost River where Billy (Hendricks), struggling to make ends meet and to keep her family together, takes a job in a sleazy burlesque nightclub where theatrical torture porn is top of the bill. Her son Bones scavenges metal and copper from crumbling buildings - much to the annoyance of the local hard guy Bully (Smith) - and whose best friend Rat (Ronan) owns a pet rat. Obviously. As Bully terrorises the neighbourhood, Bones sets off to explore one of the drowned communities in the local reservoir. In fairness, Gosling captures the stark bleakness of a rundown American community but he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it or what point he’s trying to make with it. His characters are too cold and extreme to sympathise or engage with and whilst Smith’s Bully is a nasty piece of work, much given to cutting off the lips of people who cross him and beheading small rodents, his cause as the bad boy of the piece isn’t helped by the fact that he spends much of the film wearing a sparkly gold top which last saw service on one of the Three Degrees in a mid-70s edition of Seaside Special. The increasingly-impressive de Caestacker does his best in a fairly monosyllabic lead role and only Christina Hendricks really excites our interest as the desperate, driven Billy.

It’s quite possible that Ryan Gosling will mature into a confident, assured writer/director but Lost River, for all its visual flare (which is pretty much all it’s got going for it) is a monstrous and ugly misfire which suggests that Gosling’s got a long way to go and needs to learn how to distance himself from his movie-making heroes if he really hopes to establish himself as a bold and distinctive voice in contemporary cinema. Lost River is sadly, for all the remedial work carried out on it, a real lost cause.

Expected Rating: 5 out of 10

Actual Rating:

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