If anyone was wondering if Ryan Gosling was influenced at all by the directorial style of Nicholas Winding Refn, then look no further. Lost River is Gosling’s first directorial effort (he also wrote the script and produced the film), and the Winding Refn influence is strong. There are distinct elements of David Lynch too, adding to the dreamlike and occasionally surreal moments that play out in front of us.
It’s a very nice movie to look at. There are rich colours and incredible fiery scenes illuminating the cast and surrounding area. Unlike Winding Refn, more than 50% of Lost River is set at normal speed (or perhaps cranked down just a notch) rather than his occasionally painful use of slow motion. Lessons learned there.
Christina Hendricks is Billy, a mother of two who is led down a dark path by Ben Mendelsohn’s sinister Dave. Much like Alan Partridge and his chocolate orange storage fiasco, Billy was made promises about her loan that have not been kept. As a result she is now at risk of losing her home. She isn’t the only one. Other residents in her street are in the same boat. The neighbourhood has gone to the dogs thanks to Matt Smith’s Bully, who is hoarding copper piping for his own ill-gotten gains.
It’s clear why Smith took this role, his first after leaving Doctor Who. Bully is about as far from The Doctor as it’s possible to get in terms of the character’s motivations and beliefs. He comes to blows, in a sense, with Ian de Caestecker’s Bones, son of Billy. While Billy is off watching Dave do a strange, erotic dance in front of her, Bones is off exploring an underwater town nearby. There’s a curse to be lifted, you see.
Rounding off the cast is Saoirse Ronan (always good), who plays Rat. She carries around a rat with her, called Nick. Makes sense? She is another local resident who may be forced to move, looking after her grandma. Grandma has gone completely off the deep end, let’s be honest. She has a Miss Havisham vibe, poorly plastered with makeup and watching videos of her wedding day to remember her husband who died years previously. She spends the majority of the film with Bones,
We also meet Eva Mendes, a dancer/performer in a club visited by Billy and Dave. The club has an odd twist. Each night, the performer is apparently murdered in a grisly manner. It’s all for show, not that the captive audience seem to mind as they are sprayed with blood.
Suffice to say, there is a lot of promise for Gosling’s future as a director. What I would like to see is a more coherent narrative. Presenting everything in a dreamlike manner will only get you so far. The themes at play too are strong ones, which makes the lack of clarity all the more disappointing. Going to extremes to protect your family. Wanting to escape from a dead-end existence. Fighting back against those who wish you harm. They are great thematic starting points.
Adding to the theme, there’s a sense that events are taking place in some sort of personal purgatory for all those involved. The only way to escape is through a taxi driver (Red Kateb) who seems like a modern-day version of Charon ferrying souls over the River Styx. What it’s missing is a sense of cohesion to tie all these aspects together.
While that may be the most disappointing thing about Lost River, overall it’s a good effort, and I look forward to Gosling’s next feature.