Christina Hendricks plays Billy, a single mother who is struggling to provide for her two sons and keep her home intact while living in a rundown town. After a bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) directs her to an opportunity that would allow her to find some financial stability, Billy accepts and soon finds herself working at a cabaret that specializes in faux horrorshow antics. Meanwhile, Billy’s oldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) spends most of his days exploring the town, hanging out with a girl named Rat (Saoirse Ronan) and getting into trouble with the town’s tormenter aptly named Bully (Matt Smith). When Bones discovers a flooded road, he begins inquiring about the strangeness that surrounds the area’s past.
It’s a very esoteric film due to its abstract concepts, gruesome imagery, and inclination to slow cinema. Much of the film’s eccentricity can be linked to films that Gosling himself has acted in such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, both of which are vastly different from each other aside from their strong command for pulsating moods. Because filmmaking is a profession of gathering numerous passions into one comprehensible piece, it can be easy to lose focus when bringing an idea to fruition. Lost River is the result of Gosling wanting to incorporate a great deal of interests onto one canvas and losing sight of the main objective.
Shot in Detroit, Michigan, the film has a rich visual palette that is driven by the urban decay of its locations and the neo-noir energy rendered by cinematographer Benoît Debie. It feels very raw in some moments and fantastical in others, as if the entire film is lingering between being awake and falling asleep. This could also be said, in a more negative respect, about the film’s plot, which is slow-paced and never really offering anything to grab onto. It’s an unbalanced film that ends up having to relying entirely on its design and performances in order to maintain any kind of interest during its 95-minute duration.
Even when surrounded by extreme melancholy, Hendricks proves that she is a radiant and intuitive actress able to lead even an unusual movie such as this. Her classic Hollywood allure suits the material well as she fends for herself down the rabbit hole of absurdity in which her character descends. Mendelsohn, who is currently on a streak of solid performances, also meets the challenge of the film’s complexity (his rendition of “Cool Water” is a must listen). In fact, all the performances are well crafted. It’s only the film’s way of vignetting each character that seems to muddle the intrigue.
Overall, Lost River lacks the stamp of a director with a voice. The film is an inspiring effort, but one that is more than likely bound to fade away with time. Despite Debie’s stellar cinematography and an exuberant electronic score by Johnny Jewel, the film’s plot drifts aimlessly as if it too were a product of the titular lost river.