If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than it’s safe to say that Ryan Gosling thinks the world of Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance.
Lost River is Gosling’s first film as a writer and a director, and with his first go, he’s attempted to create an artistic, ambiguous, dramatic thriller. As I alluded to previously, the film shares much of the same vibes and production as past films that Gosling has starred in: Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Place Beyond the Pines, mostly. Before jumping into details, the best way to illustrate this comparison is to show you. Below are trailers for the three other films followed by Lost River‘s. See if you can’t find any similarities.
It’s worth noting that the first two trailers for the Winding Refn films are very misleading, and not true to the true themes/feel of the films. They are much more similar to that of The Place Beyond the Pines [TPBTP] and Lost River.
The film shares production design, art direction, and even music department cast with Drive, and the visual and aural presentation make that fact clear. The most noticeable similarities are the colors, contrast, and saturation much in the vein of Winding Refn: the neons, the bright colors against the black of night, hallways and rooms washed out in purple and pink. The music of the film has several tracks that imitate Cliff Martinez’s work in Drive and Only God Forgives with the deep driving synth sounds. The soundtrack for this film had me scratching my head at points, which is a very rare occurrence for me when watching a movie. I think some of the selections just didn’t work. Others did well to bring out the dark, chilling, thrilling vibes, but in general it was very hit-or-miss.
The story and direction are more the likes of Cianfrance. The grungy, lower class setting paired with the characters of the film down on their luck and looking for money any way they can very much emulates TPBTP, and I find Gosling’s direction to have much of the same feel. He succeeded, along with the great casting of Matt Smith and Ben Mendelsohn, in creating some really creepy, freaky characters and scenes. The destructive, fiery world of urban Detroit gives memorable images. Without those characters, actors, and scenes, the film is derivative and slow. It has some life and excitement when the climax comes, but it is over in a flash as the movie ends seemingly abruptly.
There is promise shown from the work of Gosling here. Winding Refn and Cianfrance have succeeded in this niche of film-making, and Gosling shows he’s got the chops to create such a visual experience. All he needs to do now is to find a true, wholesome heart for the body of his craft.