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Cannes Review: Ryan Gosling’s ‘Lost River’ Starring Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan & Matt Smith

Cannes Review: Ryan Gosling's 'Lost River' Starring Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan & Matt Smith

There’s no bigger way for a movie star to paint a giant target on their back than by stepping behind the camera. More often than not, an actor making their directorial debut gets to do more or less whatever they want, and without anyone telling them no, the results can be indulgent and self-serving—there are more films like Mark Ruffalo‘s “Sympathy For Delicious” than Charles Laughton‘s “Night Of The Hunter.” And far be it from Ryan Gosling to upset that particular narrative. 

The “Drive” star’s first feature as director, “Lost River,” premiered in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes, and has seemingly already passed into Croisette legend as a “Southland Tales“-style disaster. That’s not entirely unfair, as the film is an indulgent mess and then some. But it’s not a dull mess, and this writer at least found some pleasures to salvage from it, mostly of the audio-visual variety.

Set in the town of the title, built on the banks of a reservoir that flooded another town, in an indeterminate time, it centers on single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) who lives in a dilapidated house with sons Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and Frankie (Landyn Stewart). Behind on her mortgage payments and about to lose her home, she quits her job as a waitress and accepts a position at a strange club run by her bank manager, Dave (Ben Mendelsohn). Bones, meanwhile, is trying to help out by stripping houses of copper wire, but while doing so falls foul of local psychopath Bully (Matt Smith), who has a propensity for chopping off people’s lips with scissors. Bully starts to target him, which also puts in danger his neighbor/crush Rat (Saoirse Ronan), who lives across the street with her Miss Havisham-ish grandma (Barbara Steele).

This all makes the film sound a little more “ordinary” than it really is. From the first frames, with ruined suburban houses and ’50s tunes on the soundtrack, it’s clear that Gosling used to write David Lynch‘s name on his pencil case. The director’s influence can be felt almost everywhere, from the psychopathic bad guys (Mendelsohn even quotes Dennis Hopper in “Blue Velvet” at one point) to the Silencio-style club where Hendricks starts working.

In general, Gosling as director wears his influences on his sleeve. Much of the photography, some of the imagery, and all of the violence is borrowed from his work with Nicolas Winding Refn, there are some surreal, unexplained horror touches that feel like Dario Argento, and the post-Katrina vibe, fable-ish magic realism and use of seemingly non-professional actors in supporting roles makes it feel a little like “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” just with a bunch of white people. It’s an unruly mash-up of things that Gosling digs, without much original thought to it.

Or, really, much real thought at all. It’s a pretty shallow film, undeniably pretty, but without much beneath the surface. Again, that could be said of Gosling’s team-ups with Refn, but in those pictures, the form became the substance. Here, Gosling’s not in command of his craft enough for that to be the case. However, for all the flaws, of which there are many, the film does show that Gosling has some promise as a filmmaker. It’s extraordinarily pretty, for one, thanks to the work of “Enter The Void“/”Spring Breakers” photographer Benoît Debie, and some truly impressive locations. Gosling clearly has a fine eye, and there’s some truly striking and haunting imagery here, not all of which is borrowed from other places.

And given how many ideas are flung at the wall, some of them do stick, with something called The Shelf being memorably creepy, as are other elements of the Club (including Hendricks’ gruesome on-stage performance). The cast is pretty solid too. De Caestecker, channeling his director, acquits himself decently, as does Ronan, while the bad guys are having tons of fun. Smith, cast effectively against type, uses his unique, gawky screen presence to make Bully a much more interesting thug than the name might suggest, and Mendelsohn is the best thing in the movie by a mile, particularly when he gets to sing (a cover of Hank Williams‘ “Cool Water”) or dance (a hypnotic, deeply menacing moment).

The film is ultimately kind of juvenile and dumb, and there are more moments where you’ll roll your eyes rather than inwardly applauding. And given the talent assembled, the emptiness at its center only makes it feel like more of a waste. But it does look great, it does sound great (the score, by “Drive” soundtrack contributor Johnny Jewel, is one of the film’s best elements), and can be fitfully interesting. Thus, it’s not a particularly auspicious debut for Gosling, but not one that suggests he should always stick to the day job, either. [C-]

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Raymond Leggs

And people wonder why I hate most movie critics.


"Juvenile", "shallow", "dumb". Nothing reveals an artist like his creation.


Another Gosling flop. At this point, if this was, say, Franco (even though I don't like him either), there would be articles on why he can't make a hit movie or what happened to his career. And no, his choices really aren't interesting at all.


Why was this even selected to screen at Cannes? This is why I really don't care about this festival anymore and why it no longer holds any real prestige. They just choose films to get as many young celebrities to attend as possible regardless of the quality of the films.


I usually never like to see people fail but I've always been so annoyed by the Gosling overhyping and worship, so I'm not too sad to see his career take a few hits the last 2 years.


So Gosling is as big a poseur at directing as he is at acting? Huge Shocker.


I'm surprised Warner Bros. is distributing this in the states. When was the last time a studio released a film like this? Seems like a film even some of the bigger indie distribs would be skeptical of picking up.

be original

I personally dont believe the critics. whatever they said is just crap. I dont think that film will be that awesome but it will not that bad. the real problem that gosling from beginning said he is influence by the director he work with and their actors said that film is like lynch meet twin peak. Now in every critic they compare the film to others rather than find something original. This thing happen with saint laurent. Critics compare it to biography rather than actual decade that director really want to show in film. Thats why be original. So Mr gosling next time just say that this is my original idea and i didnt being inspired by anyone rather than my own experience. than your film will be appreciated even it will be a crap


Read the script, played out exactly like this. However Tarantino has already proven if you just cram your films with homage after homage you will always have at least a small, but fervent group of supporters. Too bad.


Even ThePlaylist give this a bad review? WOW! Everyone is really over Gosling and his crap.


I told you! Gosling is the worst. I'm so glad he's been knocked off his pedestal. He's just mediocre and contrived- always has been.


I had a feeling this wasn't going to be very good…


Interesting I'm a huge fan of Gosling and was crossing my fingers for him.
The reviews have been very mixed from what I've read so far so I guess I'll have to see it myself to judge.
I read the leaked script from 2012 and thought it had some great concepts but it was indeed underdeveloped and thought it was kind of dry. However I knew Gosling would rely on impressive audio-visual imagery to get his story across. Hopefully he doesn't get too down on himself from all the bad reviews because he's a tremendous talent otherwise.


Love the Gos, hated the script. Thought that the screenplay was devoid of a plot/interesting characters but the imagery and the idea of the club was extremely inventive. I'll see this in a theater for the cinematography.


*slowly stands; tilts head to the Heavens*


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