Famously panned at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, might not fulfil its promise but should be praised for its ambition nonetheless.
A dark, modern fairy tale, Lost River tells the story of a single mother, Billy (Hendircks), swept into a dark underworld as she tries to keep the family above water. Aptly filmed in Detroit, her son (De Caestecker) is in a bit of trouble too, scouring derelict buildings for copper and metals he might be able to sell, it’s on self-appointed kingpin Bully’s turf, and he doesn’t like to share.
Filled with intoxicating imagery, Gosling’s visual style is Lost River’s best success. Gosling is hugely ambitious, creating a mesmerising, almost dystopian world. Bully rides around in an armchair atop a car, clad in a shimmering bomber jack, Billy is entangled in a club straight out of Eyes Wide Shut.
And it’s the cast that brings the film to life. Each have their own moment of genius; Matt Smith is devilish at the gas station, Ben Mendelsohn’s dance sequence is a one-in-a-million routine, with Christina Hendricks on the receiving end, screams fear without opening her mouth. And the ominous backdrop of toiling Detroit is a character in itself.
Lost River is ambitious but it stutters on some of its many plot strands and story quirks. Thematically he’s there but Gosling has some way to go from a narrative point of view. Lost River hits peaks and troughs, losing pace at important moments, and then picking back up without notice. It makes the film feel unbalanced, while the underwater city concept is completely superfluous to the story.
Lost River is a hugel y impressive debut, even if it is ultimately flawed. It feels like a first feature, and that’s OK, and displays an art and eye from Gosling you might not have thought he possessed.