Wednesday, 3 June 2015

'Lost River' Review

Lost river is somewhat a cult classic already. Considering it has only been a couple of months since a nationwide release, and only two days since a DVD and Blu-Ray launch, that's remarkable. How has it achieved this feat? By becoming the most critic-hated (high brow) film of all time. And I do mean that. Booed at Cannes, Ryan Gosling's directorial debut has gone down in history as a monumental failure, an abomination to cinema. Well, I disagree... read on to find out.

I understand that this review will be very much on the defensive, trying to hold back the waves of hate that so many reviewers have for this movie. Partially, I feel as if this is down (largely) to 'The Independent', who have orchestrated a campaign of hate against 'Lost River'; even resorting to spreading lies about the cancellation of a widespread release. This, of course, is unwarranted. It doesn't take a genius to notice that critics were always going to attempt to ruin Gosling: he's an actor, and a damn fine one at that (Drive/Blue Valentine), but he's decided to direct a film as well. Shock! Horror! People are only allowed one talent in this country, goddammit; so Gosling must be a crap director. 'Professional' critics went into the film with an expectation, and projected the results of that expectation onto the film.

They're wrong.

Lost River - Beauty would be an understatement
From the opening titles, we can tell that 'Lost River' will be something special - the 50s style music and retro comic book/ Disney font take us back to our young childhoods and instill a sense of melancholy that permeates the experience that this film provides. It's just a beautiful scene, and its clear that Gosling knows how to brew faux-nostalgia to the max. It also provides a taste of the cinematic experience that we're going to be treated to: the visuals are incredible. We see the ruins of Detroit, and the  remnants of a spectacular city, a sort of metaphor for the collapsed American dream that Gosling envisages. But what of the story?

Our main protagonist is.... well... I suppose we have two main protagonists: 'Billie', and her teenage son 'Bones'. We follow their struggles trying to 'live the dream' in one of many 'Lost Rivers'. What follows is an odd, psychedelic trip as we track Bones's ongoing duel with 'Bully' (played by an absolutely fantastic Matt Smith) and his quest to travel to an underwater prehistoric theme park, whilst simultaneously watching Billie get dragged into a grand-Guignol - esque murder fetish club by a sexual pervert named, of all things,  Dave. I just don't understand how one of the main criticisms of this film was the lack of originality!

Ronan - A beautiful performance
Johnny Jewel. Those two words signify quality in the soundtrack department. The soundscape artist for 'Drive', Jewel exquisitely crafts an audio adventure for what he calls the 'fucked up Goonies'. It's incredible and unlike anything I have ever heard before. Whereas Luhrman attempted to blend the 20s with the 21st century and partially succeeded, Jewel rocks the combination of 50s soul/jazz records and the hard pumping beats that he is so renowned for. Which brings us onto one of the most unique aspects of Gosling's movie - it's a musical (or, at least, a pseudo-musical). The main two climax scenes are choreographed perfectly to music in stunning synchronization, characters perform not only dance routines, but choreographed murders and, in a fit of ingenuity, digetic sound comes from the cast members with Matt Smith, Saoirse Ronan and Ben Mendehlson adding to the soundtrack (Ronan and Mendehlson perform full numbers). The result is as haunting and beautiful as anything I've ever seen. Chills.

Matt Smith - Simply stunning
The visuals are just so powerful in complementing the soundtrack as well. Gosling likes his purples and cool blues, we see a lot of those. But he also works in a strange hyper - reality. In the daytime, we see heightened colors: beautiful greens under lush blue skies. At night, lights cast extravagant shades onto the ground: blues, purples, reds and oranges fire into the night sky, turning the grass a luminous green and forcing an inky blackness upon the titular lake. His shots are methodical and precise, perfect in their symmetry, yet, it never feels forced at all. The club where Billie works is a product of some madcap imagination - the craziest centerpiece of a film since Silencio in 'Mullholland Dr.'. We witness three full shows at this club, all more disturbing than the last, but also, all more beautiful in the same way. On paper, the film works so well,  but does 'Lost River' have an edge?

In order for a film such as this to maintain a narrative drive, it needs to have some sort of kick. The spontaneous cast members (locals whom Gosling improvised with) add a natural charm which perfectly complements the film. The murder - fetish scenes are hard to watch, and the language is profusely explicit. Violence, when shown onscreen, is pretty hardcore and the scenes where Bones observes what lies in 'Lost River' are distressing and frightening. It really is a thematically perfect film that delivers on all fronts.

Electric Greens
But, alas, I must dock a star... I know, I know: I said it was amazing. It is amazing. But it's not perfect. If Gosling directs a second film, and I hope he does, he shouldn't write the script... It's not bad per-say, and his visuals speak louder than words, but at times it can be clunky ('They flooded it to make the river, that's why they called it Lost River'). The story arc also isn't as fully developed as I would liked. It's more a visual metaphor for how Gosling portrays the American Dream: a flatlining corpse which is suddenly, inexplicably brought to life (although one can only assume this was NOT his intention). Gosling also wears his influences on his sleeve... although this is not not necessarily a bad thing, one could proclaim that this film is a mere reflection on Ryan's career and DVD collection. Refn and Lynch are clearly at work here, as well as the fact that Johnny Jewel is on board. His framings suggest Kubrick, or Anderson, but altogether I feel the result is highly original.

In retrospect, I will admit that 'Lost River' has it's faults, but I will also proclaim to the heavens that it is an incredible cinematic odyssey! For now, we shall enjoy it as a treat, a midnight movie, a cult screening perhaps. In the future we will hail it as the misunderstood masterpiece it really is, and concede that, perhaps, critics can be wrong...
Lost River gets 4 stars!

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