You can kind of imagine the pitch meeting for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut in the director’s chair. “Hi I’m Ryan Gosling, you know me from everywhere. Can I have some money please?” And that makes sense too. I was keen to watch this mainly for the Gosling, though I had also heard good things about the soundtrack.
We would all be richer though if those pulling the financial strings had done a little more due diligence, perhaps enquiring as to Gosling’s plan for the film’s story and style. The film is set in an America destroyed by the housing and financial crisis, presented with deliberate post-apocalyptic overtones. It’s not as rad as that sounds, trust me. The conflating of a post-apocalyptic wasteland with modern day poverty stricken and destitute parts of America is a really good idea in theory. But in practice, all the lingering shots of overgrown streets, tourist attractions under water and abandoned houses are not imbued with any meaning by the film’s atmosphere or script. Overall it’s a really clunky attempt to say something about the recent U.S. housing crisis. For all the arty trimmings, the story goes to the most obvious places possible and has zero fun getting there. Gosling goes for a lot – an ethereal dreamlike quality, social commentary, absurdity, arthousiness, tension and some occasional sci-fi/horror elements – but he’s reaching and nothing ever feels anything other than really played out.
The end result of Lost River is that it just feels as though Gosling is aping far better directors such as Nicholas Winding-Refn (unsurprisingly) and Terrence Malick, but without their assuredness. Whether or not you appreciate the work of those two names, the kind of films they make are very hard to put together and even harder to make watchable. The opening scene here legitimately feels like Gosling is trying to remake The Tree of Life (2011), and plenty of the imagery is in a similar vein. The oblique dialogue and storytelling is similarly reminiscent of that film and the work of Winding Refn, though here it is filtered somewhat through a hint of pop culture influence. As for the soundtrack, which I mentioned I had heard a bit about, well it’s decent but did not blow me away. Even at that level it’s probably the highlight of the film truth be told. There are some good moments and there’s some nice interplay with the overall sound design. But for the most part there seems a lack of commitment to put any of the boldness on the soundtrack to the front and centre of the film. Instead there is a reliance on the performances to see it through. But whilst the cast has pedigree, you know the performances are flat when even Ben Mendelsohn feels muted. Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker and Saoirse Ronan are all similarly underwhelming. It is only an unrecognisable Marr Smith with any real life to his performance, bringing a real sense of menace to a character that has not had any created by the writing.
Verdict: Unfortunately Lost River really does not succeed on any level. There are attempts at a whole lot of things, but it all feels undercooked and I was totally disinterested throughout. It was always going to be easy for Gosling to snap his fingers and get a directorial debut off the ground. Based on this evidence though, there other voices I would much rather see get the investment and backing. Schooner of Tooheys New