Commentary by A.C. Hall
I’m a Ryan Gosling fan. I think the guy is a great actor and a unique talent. So when I heard he’d written and directed his first movie, I was excited to check it out. What I saw was a wildly imaginative, unique movie that strives for brilliance and very nearly achieves it. Unfortunately, the movie’s oddness and artsy elements get pushed too far, making it something of a mess. It’s a beautiful, interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.
Lost River tells the story of a small family living in a crumbling corner of America. This semi-apocalyptic setting is never explained, but it’s clear that this is a place where society is in the process of falling apart. Most of the people in the area have left, leaving this iconic Americana town nearly empty and crumbling. Those who remain are desperate to make ends meet, which is the driving force behind the story.
As I mentioned above, this movie falls short of its lofty reach. It tries so hard to be a movie full of deep meaning, relying on the usual art house nonsense of long silent scenes where pretty much nothing happens. But when the movie focuses in and gets to telling a story, it’s pretty captivating stuff. The world these characters inhabit is amazingly unique and has some strange but menacing dangers. A crazed maniac named Bully drives up and down the empty streets, proclaiming his ownership of all the scrap metal in the crumbling town. A predatory banker named Dave convinces desperate home owners to come work in his seedy underground club that mixes cabaret and mayhem into a devilish cocktail.
Then there’s the main characters. Bones, the young man who just wants to fix his car so he can leave this cursed town. He risks his life by stealing from Bully, ready to do whatever it takes to make a little money. Then there’s his mother, Billy. Forced into work at the underground club, she’ll do anything to keep a roof over her two sons’ heads. But as she confronts the darkness inside the club it becomes clear this is no place for a woman like her.
Watching these characters struggle to survive in this desolate world is awesome. It’s a quiet struggle, but one so deeply and absolutely desperate that you can’t help but get swept up into the story. You want these characters to find peace, to find a way out of this strange and awful city that’s crumbling all around them. It’s a true shame that the movie fluctuates from these great elements into an artsy, weird mess, because it really disrupts what could’ve been a brilliant film.
A lot of people won’t be able to get through Lost River. The movie is a little too out there and disjointed for casual audiences, and I totally get that. But if you can somehow hold on and hold out, this movie ramps up to an amazing finale that delivers on the potential of the overall story. The final ten minutes of the movie bumped my rating up a full point, as it showed just how good this movie could’ve been if it focused in and told a great story instead of trying to be so artsy and out there.
For his first film, Gosling shows a ton of promise with Lost River. If he can reign himself in a bit and find a better balance between the artistic and the concrete, he could be a one of a kind filmmaker. For now, Lost River is an incredible mess. I liked it quite a bit, but I think the average rating for this movie would be quite a bit below mine, so keep that in mind before you decide to check it out.
THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS
This movie is rated R for disturbing violent images, language and some sexual content.