Lost River has something worthwhile thanks to its cinematography, soundtrack, and solid performances.
DP Benoît Debie provides vivid and engaging imagery of rural decay. This includes dramatic compositions of dilapidated homes, burning houses, and streetlights poking out of a sunken city. The unnamed town referred to as Lost River looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Film score from Johnny Jewel and songs provide a soundtrack reminiscent of Drive – electronic tracks mixed with quaint folksy tunes.
Despite being run over by capitalism, there are still a few people too emotionally attached to leave Lost River. The cast turns in great performances and manages to make these underwritten characters sympathetic or interesting.
Ben Mendelsohn, who’s experiencing a much deserved career boost as a character actor, is the most memorable. He’s brilliant as the scheming perverted douche Dave and the actor’s world-weary look added more dimensions to the character. He has rape enabling shells but you can also sense that Dave has seen too much lost rivers, thanks to Mendelsohn’s performance.
These elements show a good movie brewing underneath all the pretentiousness. Unfortunately, they’re overshadowed by Gosling’s love letter to his influences. The reaction from Cannes isn’t unwarranted.
Lost River has a plethora of references.
You’ll see reflections of Detropia, Gummo, Black Sunday, Eyes Without a Face, and Blue Velvet. The main influence is his collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn – the harsh neon lights, cartoonish out of nowhere violence, and odd characters.
It’s understandable that as an artist, your influences will definitely surface in your work. However, Lost River is nothing more than that, a bunch of curated images inspired by other movies.
Rather than tackle capitalism and explore the poor souls trying to survive in it, the movie fills the frame with unending images of decay and repackaged references. The narrative is aimless, filled with characters that are tossed into nonsensical situations that screw up their already screwed up life.
Just like a Refn movie, Lost River climaxes into a violent tragedy that makes the lives of its characters worse than it already is. In the end, the movie doesn’t accomplish much beyond revealing Gosling’s taste in movies.
Overall, Lost River suffers from a problem common in art films – a beautiful set-up hiding an obscure weak plot filled with caricatures, all designed to be weird for weirdness sake.
Lost River shows that Ryan Gosling has good taste in movies, but his debut film is a catalog of aimless curated images inspired by his influences.