LOST RIVER: THE REVIEW
Q&A WITH RYAN GOSLING
May 25th, 2015
When I received an invitation to see Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut followed by a Q&A with the man himself, I was both excited and skeptical. The name Ryan Gosling is thrown around with such humorous connotations that you can’t help but associate him with Noah from ‘The Notebook’ or his ripped topless self in ‘Crazy, Stupid Love’ - the title of which speaks for itself. But people often forget about his steely, Steve McQueen-esque character in Drive who is anything but reluctant to stomp a man’s face in, in front of his new girlfriend. Followed by a lead role in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ as a face tattooed stunt biker turned lawless bank robber to support his new family. In ‘Only God Forgives’ he plays a ruthless man avenging the death of his brother set against a bleak and pretty accurate backdrop of Thailand, surrounded by drugs and prostitution. A beautifully shot insight into the darker side of Thailand’s gang culture with Gosling leading the way.
So for his first directorial debut ‘Lost River’, I was hoping for something along those lines with the intensity of Drive and the subtle darkness of Only God Forgives. And surprisingly it was even darker than expected. Set against the surreal vanishing city of Detroit, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) plays single mother of two, who was mis-sold a loan during the Detroit mortgage crisis. On the verge of losing her house she turns to Ben Mendelsohn’s character, a manipulative bank manager who suggests she earn some money at the Gothic Cabaret club he runs on the side. Which lurches us into a surreal David Lynch style world where eccentric performer Eva Mendez acts out cutting her throat and performing to business men in a horror-porn cabaret. Mendez is brilliant as the sassy ring leader caked in make-up and vibrant outfits, like a reincarnation of Frida Kahlo. Hendricks’ eldest son Bones is making a living stripping copper wire from abandoned buildings and selling it for scrap, which catches the unwanted attention of Matt Smith’s character (Doctor Who), Bully. A sinister youth dominating the now ghost town and cutting off the lips of anyone that gets in his way. Whom Bones and love interest Rat (Saorise Ronan, The Grand Budapest Hotel) have numerous disturbing interactions and close calls with. The film begins to go off tangent when Bones investigates the nearby town that was submerged in water to make way for a dam. Clearly representative of the route Detroit itself is going down yet introducing an element of fantasy, which does get confusing but cinematographer Benoit Debie captures beautifully.
At the Q&A joined by Matt Smith, Gosling let us in on how the idea for the film first came about when he started taking trips to Detroit alone and filming snippets of the vanishing city on his iPhone and later on 35mm film. He began visiting more regularly with girlfriend Eva Mendez, devised a script and gathered a team of creatives to begin on a project. This process has resulted in some beautifully eerie shots and with the help of Benoit Debie, it is a visually stunning film. However, at times many of the shots and editing are done in patchwork making the film feel disjointed. Gosling went on to explain the plot and where the idea came from. He said he wanted to explore a mother-son relationship and draw comparisons from his own upbringing with a single mum. He says, ‘she was always very beautiful and it was a real problem. Men were like wolves, sometimes circling in their car around her like vultures. And that felt very predatory and threatening for me as a kid. I felt helpless so you begin to imagine all these scenarios where you can do something. You see the world through the filter of your imagination. I wanted to portray this threatening hostile environment that’s exaggerated through the eyes of a son who has to deal with this treatment of his mother.’ Probably the most lovable character in the film is Hendrick’s youngest son played by 5 year old Landyn Stewart, who Gosling likened to Marlon Brando. 'We had to film him in secret hiding in the bushes like David Attenborough. The minute the camera was on him he wasn’t having it, just like Brando’.
The critics harsh reviews of the film is expected. Gosling would have had to produce an absolute stonker of a film for him to receive even a smidgen of praise, purely because of his Hollywood Heartthrob label. And this film is far from perfect, but critics still fail to recognize the beautiful shots of a now ghost town and the light it sheds on Detroit with the problem it currently faces. Although David Lynch comes to mind with some of the gothic cabaret scenes, Gosling has openly spoken of the influence of such directors. So it’s only natural that he pay homage to some of the greats including Malick, Refn and Cianfrance too if they are the inspirations that have driven him to direct in the first place. A highlight for me has to be Ben Mendelsohn’s dance scene which he entirely improvised to a Kendrick Lamar song, which Ryan likened to ‘watching a Unicorn be born’. Although losing me on a couple of occasions when lead Bones swims down to seize some sort of relic from the submerged town, overall it was a gripping and tense film with sinister characters and a really impressive cast. I like that he shows his inspiration from more alternative film-makers, whose work has also been hit and miss for the wider audience, just as Lost River has been.