Hey Girl, "Lost River"'s Pretty Out There Review

I got a job for you.

Lost River (2014) is a tough movie in many ways, and doubly so if you don't want to reduce it to the word "weird" or its synonyms. Because the movie is both strange and ordinary. One could call it magical realism, but the magic is not clearly in evidence. The cinematography is exactly the same, using different looks that range from realism to surrealism. While this is usually a sign of people working at cross-purposes or a failure of vision, writer-director Ryan Gosling probably made exactly what he set out to make. And yet, it's almost exactly the kind of movie that Gosling-as-actor fans would avoid. With a few exceptions, Gosling's acting choices have been towards the interesting, but still accessible through his dreamy eyes. Although it is a pretty film, it certainly isn't in as conventional a sense as Mr. Gosling could be so-described.

Billy (Christina Hendricks) is three months behind on her sub-prime mortgage and with the city of Lost River nearing ghost-town status, the smart thing to do is to walk away with her two kids, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and Franky (Landyn Stewart). But this is her home. Bones is doing his best to help out, stripping the abandoned buildings off copper. This puts him in the path of the psychotic Bully (Matt Smith), who claims the entire town as his own (with respect to metal stripping, at the least). His weapon of choice is a pair of scissors that he uses to gruesome effect. The only bright spot for Bones is his ethereal neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan)--who has a pet rat--who is tied to the neighborhood by her Havisham-esque grandmother (Barbara Steele). The new bank manager, Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), gives Billy a job in his night club, but what goes on there is its own nightmare.

The back of the case calls Lost River a "dark fairy tale", but this isn't exactly right. There are ogres, certainly. There are even princesses, maybe. But there is no real Prince Charming to break the spell on Lost River and bring about a happily ever after. Lost River is more of an allegory. The old town is literally underwater and Billy's mortgage is underwater. Dave's role as the banker and the purveyor of an exploitative night club where people can play out their violent fantasies is amenable to direct, real-world analogues than fairy tale archetypes.

The film also isn't consistently magical or surreal. Everyone but Bully and the Rat house act basically as a normal person might and their experiences are mostly filmed in a realist, documentary fashion. Occasionally, bold lighting comes into play and realism dissolves. While a film that stayed in one camp or the other might have been more entertaining or accessible, it wouldn't hold the single biggest takeaway I had from Lost River: it's hard to tell the difference between banal evil and real evil. The pervasive attitude of this world is one of nightmarish lethargy and one suspects this is the case in impoverished neighborhoods. The poverty trap is a curse and this is what it does to its victims. An almost Malick-like absence of detail is what smooths out Lost River's tonal edges and subdues what might be preachifying messages.

The best that can be said is that this film will stick in my mind. So many questions are left to my own imagination--especially since this Blu-ray doesn't come with commentary or interviews. Was the curse an economic one or Billy's concept of "Home"? What did that audience want in the night club? Are they feeding on spectacle or something darker like sheer exploitation? Is that us, a film audience? At first, I lazily assumed that this was rich versus poor, consuming their pain like Dave and his bank and maybe that's all that it is. Was the curse broken or was there no curse at all? What does any of this mean? Does it matter?

There are no bonus features.

"Lost River" is on sale May 5, 2015 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Ryan Gosling. Starring Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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