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Cannes 2014: Lost River reaction review

 

Making the transition from actor to director is undoubtedly one of the most troublesome.

Not only is it a whole new craft to learn and discover, but with acting comes celebrity - and with celebrity comes expectation.  

And when it comes to Ryan Gosling, he's pretty much one of the biggest famouses on the planet right now, meaning his directorial (and writing) debut Lost River is subject to more pressure than most.

Thankfully, while it definitely suffers from a host of 'first-time director' problems, it's not the utter disaster many were expecting (and likely hoping for) either. 

Set in a small dilapidated backwater town battered by America's economic collapse, it follows the story of a white collar family struggling to make enough money to survive. Bones (Iain De Caestecker) spends his days stripping copper from abandoned buildings and pining over next door neighbour Rat (Saoirse Ronan), while his mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) works as a waitress in a dubious, stripper-y bar to put food on the table for their toddler Franky.

As their neighbours' homes are slowly torn down around them and their own debts mount up, Billy ventures into a dangerous, bizarre and potentially lucrative world of a member's club whose clientele are as attracted to violence as theatre, while Bones angers the local psychotic hardnut Bully (Matt Smith) in his mission to salvage copper. 

As things get increasingly bleaker, Bones questions whether a local legend about the whole town being cursed is actually true, and if there's any way to reverse their fortunes.

From the off, Lost River is a twisted, weird fairytale of a story that weighs heavily on a 'death of the American dream' metaphor. More pressingly, it's a tumbledryer of ideas and influences that throws a whole load of familiar imagery at the screen. Film fans will notice obvious nods to Gosling mentors Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance, as well as David Lynch and Dario Argento.

It's a heady flurry and jumble of ideas, and not all of them stick, with moments of horror, fantasy and down-trodden realist drama all vying for room to breathe. 

But there are definite moments of wonder - the score is achingly beautiful, while the performances are all strong. And even if the visual parts are greater than the whole, Gosling has a knack for the iconic image.

All in all, Lost River feels like a student film with an A-List cast. Its homages are worn so prominently on its sleeve, it's difficult to really tap into the creative identity beneath, but it's an intriguing - if not entirely successful - debut.

As a learning curve, it'll likely be a steep one, and while this is definitely not one for the mainstream, film fans are guaranteed to find a whole hell of a lot to talk about. 

 

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