Lost River: Visually Stunning, but Ultimately Empty (Blu-ray)
Actor Ryan Gosling has had a rather illustrious career so far, starring in a number of excellent films and having the opportunity to work with some great directors along the way, including Oscar-nominee George Clooney and, most notably, BAFTA-nominee Nicholas Winding Refn. From a comparative standpoint, it would appear that it was his two experiences working with the latter, the man behind the excellent “Drive” and the misguided “Only God Forgives,” that inspired Gosling to want to turn his attention to matters behind the camera, giving us not only his directorial debut, but also his writing debut with “Lost River.”
The film deals with a community that has slowly been dying ever since a nearby river was dammed. However, a family consisting of Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her two sons, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and Franky (Landyn Stewart), tries to stick it out. With a lot of money being due on a loan, Billy is forced to take a strange job at a kind of Grand Guignol nightclub that specializes in sensational acts filled with gore. Meanwhile, Bones tries to do his part by collecting copper from abandoned buildings and selling it at a junkyard, but that becomes more difficult when a man known as Bully (Matt Smith) takes over the community and lays claim to everything in it. Bones only makes things worse when he decides to steal back the copper Bully took from him, putting himself and a friend of his, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), in great danger. Both mother and son find themselves in rough situations, but they also find themselves rising to the challenge for they both have important things in their lives worth fighting for.
There’s nothing wrong with Gosling trying to emulate a great director like Nicholas Winding Refn. The problem with “Lost River” is that he decided to emulate one of his worst films to date, the meandering and plodding “Only God Forgives.” As Gosling’s film goes on, we see him try to match it stylistically (even Refn’s film had still been visually stunning) with an interesting array of aesthetics, but it becomes clear from very early on that Gosling is also falling victim to the film’s same failings along the way. The plot of “Lost River” is nearly non-existent and just as aimless, with a complete lack of character development to go along with it. Just like with Refn’s film, Gosling tries to throw in some plot for a half-baked conclusion, but what he ends up with is so nonsensical that anyone who has actually stayed awake to this point will simply sit back in wonderment at what he was trying to accomplish.
I’m forced to give Gosling the same advice I gave Refn, that being that it would probably be best if he stick to directing and leave the writing to those who know what they’re doing, for both seem rather clueless as to how to tell a compelling story with fleshed-out characters. Hopefully Gosling’s own misfire won’t discourage him from trying again. He has shown great promise from a directorial standpoint, which, when combined with a well-written screenplay, could produce something great (a la the Refn-directed and Hossein Amini-scripted “Drive”). All directors have to start somewhere, so perhaps the whole point was just to prove that he could even make a film. However, now that his experiment is out of the way, let’s just hope that the next one is actually worth sitting through.
“Lost River” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that is very dark for much of its runtime. The scenes that take place in sunlight are decent for the most part, but when the film transitions to night (which encompasses most of its runtime) it becomes very hard to see much of what’s going on. This could be more so a production problem, but with the watchable quality of the daytime scenes, it would appear that the video just wasn’t given particularly good treatment. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio also has its share of problems, including being very soft, forcing you to either turn it way up, or keep you ears right next to the TV in order to hear the multitude of whispered dialogue. Overall, it seems that not a lot of effort was put into the film’s Blu-ray debut, making a rather disappointing experience even worse.
Ryan Gosling has taken many great visual skills from his time with director Nicholas Winding Refn, but unfortunately his writing still has a long way to go, turning “Lost River” into an aimless and bland experience to rival Refn’s own “Only God Forgives.” Like Refn, Gosling seems to have been more interested in the visual aspect of the film, leaving the story and characters as a distant afterthought. As we’ve seen with other directors that have tried this approach, the result is disastrous, giving us a film that looks stunning, but is ultimately empty beneath the glossy surface. If Gosling is to try again, he should take note that his cinematic priorities need to be rearranged, for only then will he be able to make a film that is satisfying where it truly counts.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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