If Lost River were a cocktail it’d be one part David Lynch, two parts Nicolas Winding Refn and a hint of Terrence Malick, shaken vigorously. Ryan Gosling has taken (some may argue stolen) from the best to create a stunning mood piece for his first time behind the camera and whilst the mixture may be too strong for some audiences, his debut is nothing less than a visual treat, and scary as hell at times, too.
There’s no advantage in me pointing out the obvious similarities between Gosling’s visual, emotional, and musical flair to that of Refn and how he was clearly influenced by their collaborations on Drive and Only God Forgives. One could see this film as merely Refn-lite and a poor attempt to capture the brilliance of those two modern noir masterworks – but that would be doing Lost River a disservice and a commentary not on the film but perhaps more suited to Gosling’s lifespan as an auteur if he continues to make films like Lost River and not branch out and find his own voice. Only then could the actor/director come under scrutiny.
Like the films of the three aforementioned directors, Lost River is far less concerned about the plot or character exploration than it is with using mood, surrealist hyper-reality and atmosphere to weave together the images and sounds. And what images they are; a town underwater where lampposts are still visible, a nightclub where ‘needs’ are filled with staged acts of sadistic violence against women, a gangland boss who drives around like someone out Mad Max and cuts off the lips of those who cross him, and of course Ben Mendelsohn dancing in front of Christina Hendricks locked in a plastic tomb. It’s a fairy tale wrapped up in a nightmare, but it’s a film lover’s dream.
Gosling’s film takes twenty minutes or so to find its tone. The opening is Malick-esque with low shots of grass and nature – this filled me with dread because no one can do this like the master himself. Thankfully, the film soon moves into territory the director is more seemingly more familiar with; neon colors, increasingly fragmented narrative, techno score, and style, style, and more style. Just how well Gosling managed to evoke the mood of his work with Refn and simply make it work is to be applauded. Is it as polished as Refn? No. But to tell the truth, I don’t think it’s too far away.
What I admired above all else in Gosling’s debut is that an A-list actor would make a film so completely non-commercial as this is. In a time where so many actors are afraid to go against what the box office will eat up, here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn. He’s all about the art, whether Lost River finds its audience or not. Looking at THE FILM and not the name on the credits, Lost River is a success in ways I didn’t assume possible.