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Review: Lost River

A tangle of violent, symbolic gestures that regards economic exploitation with fetishistic, impossibly overdetermined abandon.

Lost River
Photo: Warner Bros.

In Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, the tabula rasa of Detroit stands in for a city long left to die, and across whose photogenic detritus a young man, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), scavenges for scrap metal. His crimson-haired mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks), can’t pay their mortgage and Bones is trying to do his part. Around him, weirdo oppressors stand tall like pine trees: On one side is Bully (Matt Smith), a sequined-clothed thug who lords over this wasteland with scissors in hand, and Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), a banker with a history of setting up gothic night clubs in “towns that are imploding.”

The story, more a tangle of violent, symbolic gestures, regards economic exploitation with fetishistic, impossibly overdetermined abandon. Exposition is rendered as abstraction, the dialogue a mess of mixed metaphors and pop-cultural allusions. The one taxi driver in town is, of course, a foreigner, and his ironic cheeriness about the failures of the American dream is of a piece with the film’s jejune sensorial experience. Scored like a trance-y fairy tale, this grimly hypersaturated American horror story treats life in Lost River as perpetual circus act. Narrative is as unmoored throughout as thematic intent. Notions of class, desperation, allure—it’s all in the characters’ names. And when in doubt, characters simply do the shimmy shimmy ya.

In the red-light district where she goes to work, Billy rubs shoulders with Cat (Eva Mendes) throughout a series of tableaux morts that, like the film’s imagery, suggest effigies to Nicolas Winding Refn’s chic nihilism. Fantasy and reality, agony and desire, are blurred as Billy rips off her skin before an audience of ostensible rich folk, a muddled commentary on willing self-exploitation. Lost River is also, then, a kind of detritus, an avant-garde doodle that allows Gosling to abstract the experience of a city’s ruin into a dramatically inert art installation.

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Iain De Caestecker, Demi Kazanis, Barbara Steele Director: Ryan Gosling Screenwriter: Ryan Gosling Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 95 min Rating: R Year: 2014 Buy: Video

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