It's difficult to discuss "Lost River," the feature debut as writer and director from actor
Turns out "Lost River" is indeed a mess, but it's the best mess possible, an evocative grab-bag of images and moods with a heartfelt sincerity and conflicting impulses of romantic melancholy and hardscrabble hopefulness.
The story concerns a family trying to hold onto their home as others around them are being burnt out or torn down. Billy (
Gosling, who does not appear in the film, is concerned more with vibes and feelings than straightforward storytelling, which is what makes the film often feel unformed. There are hints at a relationship between Hendricks' working mom and the cab driver (Reda Kateb) who shuttles her around town that teases just enough you want it to be explored more completely.
De Caestecker simply doesn't have enough screen presence to stand up to everything going on around him, and so the film often loses its center in scenes based on Bones. Mendelsohn steals every moment he's in with an unsettling mix of sleaze, grace and aggression.
Among Gosling's sharpest choices was working with Belgian cinematographer Benoît Debie, who also shot
The pulsing, evocative score by Johnny Jewel, whose music also featured prominently in the Gosling-starring "Drive," is a similarly smart addition. The film's overall interest in mixing horror movie aesthetics and a childish, dream-like whimsy is in line with Gosling's musical project known as Dead Man's Bones, which once put on shows at a Los Angeles marionette theater with a children's choir.
There has long been a sense that if only Ryan Gosling the actor would just settle down he could be a proper big time box office movie star, but his tastes and inclinations seem too willful and eccentric for that. Whether he directs again or this becomes a one-off like efforts by
On a conventional set of scales "Lost River" is decidedly light, while on another it is more than worth its weight in the oddball Americana of old TVs, junker cars, copper piping and paper mache. Gosling obviously values the currency of one over the other, and it's not hard to feel we are the richer for it.
MPAA rating: R, for disturbing violent images, language and some sexual content
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes