Ryan Gosling’s writing and directing debut, Lost River tells the story of a single mother of two boys, trying to keep her home in a dilapidated part of Detroit where almost every home is a shell with nothing in it. Hard hit by financial problems, Billy (Christina Hendricks) is told by a creepy bank loan officer, Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) that if she wants to earn some money to keep her home, go to an address and apply for a job at a very weird nightclub. She is not sure what the job is or what kind of nightclub it is, but desperate she reluctantly agrees. The club is something that only seems to exist in the movies. Her son, Bones (Iain de Caestecker) rummages through the abandon homes and other structures looking for copper to sell to make ends meet. This is much to the enraged consternation of Bully (Matt Smith), the local thug who rides around all day and night in a recliner placed in the back of a big Caddy. Bully broadcasts from an amplifier what he will do to anyone stealing, “his copper” and it is not good as displayed by what he does to one of his own minions when they fail to stop Bones.
Gosling seems to be channeling his inner most Nicolas Winding Refn (Gosling’s director for Drive and Only God Forgives) and even a little Terence Malick (who directed Gosling in the upcoming film, Weightless) into a very atmospheric film that is long on style and mood, but is very light on these characters. Billy is the only one I connected to and she is not given that much to do except to observe. The club in which she finds a job is a conga line of freaks and weirdoes led by Dave and his lead gal, Cat (played by Gosling’s real life girlfriend, Eva Mendez). It is not a place ANYONE would enjoy and, like I said earlier, only seems to exist for a plot gimmick. A large part of Lost River is Bones and his budding romance with an attractive girl named Rat (because she carries around a rat) played with innocent charm by Saoirse Ronan. The problem is that not much comes from their relationship. Throw in a subplot about part of the town being flooded to make a reservoir, an arsonist on the loose and a certain character’s ability to find something from the submerged town’s grave to “break the spell” of despair, and you have a depressingly confounded mess.
Lost River is beautifully shot, but every time the film starts to delve into the characters and their relationships it cuts away to another character and another subplot. Each are as uninteresting as the previous one. It establishes no train of thought other than these are sad sacks and tragic pasts. I would have loved to have learned more about these people but Lost River seems to be rudderless with aimless direction and an empty script. The acting is sufficient but since these characters are written with such thinness and are one dimensional, I had a hard time caring about what happened to them. In addition to the beautiful cinematography, however, I dug Johnny Jewel’s score for the film which complimented the dour tone of the film, nicely. But the pacing is slow and underdeveloped characters detract from what might have been in interesting film. Gosling makes a noble attempt, but Lost River is nothing more than style over substance.
Lost River-**1/2 out of 5
Lost River- Rated R for language and violence
Lost River- Run Time is 95 minutes
Lost River is currently in select cities and is On Demand