Wednesday, April 8, 2015

[Review] Lost River

Lost River is Ryan Gosling's long anticipated directorial debut. The cast features Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Eva Mendes. It carries the logline: "A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town." Now, this all sounds mighty intriguing on paper, but unfortunately, the film drowns in its own arthouse fragments and worst of all: it becomes boring.

Set in a fictional neighborhood that doubles as Detroit, Billy (Hendricks) and Bones (Iain De Caesrecker) are a poor mother and son on the verge of having their home bulldozed. They do what they can do stay afloat; Bone sells copper and Billy attempts to get a job as a performer at an underground theater. There's also a weird dude in a glitter jacket who rolls down the street shouting through a megaphone, and he cuts people's lips off when they steal from him. One day, that weird dude chases Bones through an abandoned zoo and Bones stumbles upon a flooded town. Later that night, Bones' friend (Saoirse Ronan) tells him that the town is a reservoir under an evil spell. Bones' curiosity leads him to investigate. However, he never fully "goes there."

Gosling frames the shots nicely, capturing a decrepit and decaying Detroit in a way similar to how the recent horror flick It Follows did. Everything appears to be lit with natural lighting under Terrence Malick-like skies. The images transition along like pieces of a large collage. It always at least looks interesting, even if we're not sure exactly where this is all going. Much of it hinders on symbolism that most likely reflects harsh economic downfalls and swallowed up societies, but that isn't quite enough. There's also a chance that some of it might just be abstract for the sake of being abstract.

The problem really comes down to the narrative, as it's void of any dramatic heft. There's a patchy awkwardness to each event, and the script meanders and drifts between long silences and fumbling conversations containing loose themes of failed American dreams. Also, on an odd technical note, a lot of the dialogue is hushed and muffled, making it somewhat difficult to hear certain points. The opening setup is relatively solid, but as the film reaches its midway point, it delves into some fever dream sequences and the story seemingly builds and crumbles at the same time. It's quite clear that Gosling has drawn a lot of influence from his frequent collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn, but unfortunately it's more Only God Forgives than Drive.

It'd be rude to say "Ryan Gosling should stick to acting," because there is enough here to hint at some potential. But he needs a stronger story, and scene constructions that are more engaging next time.


1 comment:

  1. "The problem really comes down to the narrative, as it's void of any dramatic heft." Yes, I certainly agree. But I do give the film credit for being so confident in its execution. Gosling wasn't pulling any punches here and, famous actor or not, first time filmmaker or not, I instinctually respect that.