New To Blu: Lost River

Andrew reviews the divisive directorial debut by Ryan Gosling. 

"Welcome to the mouth of hell.
Please no Detroit jokes."
A year after the Cannes Film Festival first saw the critically lambasted writing and directing debut of actor Ryan Gosling, Warner Brothers (who originally considered selling off the film to another company) releases the Detroit based Lost River in theaters and on demand this week.  

Starring Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes and Matt Smith, the film is a dreamy wade through Detroit in ruin with an impoverished family. Think the Xenia, Ohio wasteland of Harmony Korine’s Gummo and nonlinear narrative of Spring Breakers through the eyes and ears of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. Less driven by a formal plot and realism, Ryan Gosling stands on the shoulders of Gaspar Noe, Mario Bava, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Harmony Korine and his close friend Mr. Refn.  It all looks and sounds like the masters, but the real question becomes whether or not Mr. Gosling’s first film behind the camera is worth making the comparison. 

After the Cannes fallout and debate over whether or not it was worth releasing in theaters instead of directly to video, that we’re seeing it released at all is miraculous.   While the backlash against Gosling’s directorial debut is understandable, it’s a bit unfair.  Michiganders will get the most satisfaction out of seeing Benoit Debie’s gorgeous cinematography adorning the abandoned buildings, overgrown grasslands and broken pavement with lush, deep purples contrasted by neon reds and blues.  

To say Gosling’s film successfully transforms Detroit into a dreamland is putting it lightly.  While slow motion dolly pans across derelicts don’t hide the nastiness of the broken city, Detroit has never looked more beautiful and rich than it does here.  The vivid kaleidoscopic visual schema wouldn’t be nearly as haunting without an equally dense and lovely soundscape thanks Glass Candy’s Johnny Jewel.  An electronic score of ambience, white noise and retroactive analog synth echoing the scores of both Drive and Only God Forgives, the soundtrack (set to come out on a purple vinyl later this year) is so good it’s an essential listen! 

"I just love my Barbie microphone!"
Many of the detractors dead set against whatever it was Gosling was hoping to do with what is objectively speaking a pretentious wannabe, they’re as right as they are wrong.  Yes, the film’s self-indulgence, lyrical narrative and emphasis on audiovisual spectacle over a straightforward piece of storytelling can be trying if not totally alienating to some.  The film’s overall sense of oppression and occasionally startling moments of extreme violence and gore (clearly Refn inspired) won’t sit well with everyone either.  

As a fan of pure cinema where the focus is entirely on moving images irrespective of content, Lost River is an admirable stab at the vaguely defined movement more and more modern directors are applying to their films.  Compared to directorial debuts like Jon Stewart’s Rosewater or Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered where you wonder how entertainers of their stature managed to turn over such lousy efforts, Gosling’s surreal travelogue through Detroit is handsome to behold.  Whether you like the film or not, you won’t be able to deny it looks great and sounds even greater!

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-Andrew Kotwicki