Lost River

 

Release: Friday, April 10, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Ryan Gosling

Directed by: Ryan Gosling

On a scale of crypticness, Lost River sits right in between the obtuseness of garden variety Terrence Malick and Ryan Gosling’s second collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn, though the distances are pretty great on either side. It doesn’t come close to even appearing to profess thematic profundity like Malick’s work, though it doesn’t share a disdain for accessibility quite like Only God Forgives.

Given a chance to have full artistic control of his own project, Gosling proves his oddness runs deeper than his strong-but-silent types as of late, for Lost River is its own world, one which few are likely going to want to visit anytime soon. Rampant with poverty, violence and haunting (haunted?) characters, the titular town epitomizes economic collapse. It’s a ghost town strewn with a few souls still desperately hanging on to life. A horror film in which reality has been forsaken for surreality and an oppressive sense of hopelessness. If it sounds like I enjoyed this piece, it’s because I did.

Then again, for all its indulgences in style and a plethora of other barricades to most reasonable viewers, maybe ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong term. For a time I sat in awe of what Gosling was trying to express through a melange of vivid, bizarre images comprised mostly of things on fire and buildings being swallowed up by natural environs. That was before I tired of drinking in admittedly gorgeous visuals, my brain thirsting instead for real, useful information. Around 30 minutes in Gosling’s inexperience writing a story and directing it with focus and purpose becomes all too evident.

Some semblance of story revolves around single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her son Bones (Iain de Caestecker), scrambling for the money to keep a roof over their heads. Billy is told by a corrupt bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) that he knows of a way she can cover at least the next three months’ payments, but she’ll have a hard time saving face — almost literally — by taking up this unscrupulous offer. Meanwhile, Bones goes searching for scrap copper wiring from which he hopes to earn whatever cash he can by selling it to a junkyard. Or is that a cleverly concealed graveyard for anyone who has tried to make something of themselves in this place?

Bones is more successful instigating the ire of the psychotic Bully (Dr. Who‘s Matt Smith) who gets a thrill from parading through the town, terrorizing anyone within earshot (of a loudspeaker) from his armchair affixed atop a white convertible. All that’s missing from the scene is a justified second gunman on the grassy knoll. Someone please snipe this bastard. On the flip side of the coin: Billy now finds herself working at the burlesque night club from Hell, where performances, led by Eva Mendes’ Cat, emphasize realistic murders designed to titillate audiences whose tastes in entertainment would be pointless to elucidate they are so baffling. So off-putting. A seeming reflection of how most have come to regard Gosling’s directorial debut.

The kicker though, is that I don’t think my finding of that parallel is forced by some twisted means of trying to defend the film. While Lost River meanders (and it does it so much it isn’t a film to watch with the lights off I’ve found out — not so much for the nightmarish imagery but the slumber it can cast you off into) the scenes in the night club encapsulate Gosling’s obsession with distancing himself from the typical narrative package. Acquired taste? Yes. Do I smell a hint of pretentiousness here? Also, yes. But let’s, for a second, pretend that word doesn’t exist and recognize Gosling’s strengths as an actor first and foremost and quite likely as an individual second. He’s one with uncommon style, an expert on esoteric self-expression, though none of that ever fully justifies his shortcomings as director and writer.

The film ends miserably — not thematically but in terms of satisfaction — and this is where any reasonable defense similarly must come to an end. If the joke has been how ridiculously abstract a film can be made with a limited budget and even more limited experience, the punchline isn’t a punchline. Gosling fucks up the joke. I was, for the most part, humored by some of the things he was presenting in the form of the downtrodden, the sleaziness of an ever-reliable Ben Mendelsohn, the purity of Matt Smith’s mania. Or maybe I was in some weird way trying to humor him by putting myself through a film that I can’t deny is far too reminiscent of Refn, Malick and any number of established filmmakers who have made a career out of the abstract and thematically impenetrable. David Lynch seems to be cropping up often in the conversation as well.

I hope I’m not patronizing too much here by saying that Lost River is, at the very least, eye-catching. It spills forth from Gosling’s mind, a stream of consciousness showered in stark imagery that won’t disappear easily from your own.

Recommendation: Lost River represents Ryan Gosling echoing perhaps too loudly the stylistic flourishes of those he looks up to but it’s a gorgeous film and a curious one that I’d recommend to anyone who thinks Gosling and Refn have something unique to offer. And if you gave a thumbs-up to Only God Forgives, there’s no reason you won’t be able to find things to like with this one. Lost River will fail to attract many outside of those circles, though and that’s unfortunate.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Everyone is looking for a better life somewhere else.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Place Beyond the Pines

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Release: Friday, March 29, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

It’s been years since we have been handed a package as complete as Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines. Beautiful cinematography, intense acting and a sprawling, morally exhausting plot come together to form the definitive crime drama that quite easily could pave the way for the rest of Gosling and Cooper’s career alike — and I’d be more than okay with that.

To get the elephant out of the room as quick as possible — I’ll go ahead and concur with many reviewers and say this is an early contender for Best Picture of 2013. The Place Beyond the Pines is a spectacularly well put-together piece of art, not just because Ryan Gosling continues to bolster his rough-around-the-edges persona as of late (in my opinion, he truly one-ups his performance in Drive here), but because the trichotomous story structure allows for so much growth and change to occur such that we experience entire lifetimes unfolding on film, rather than mere snippets of life that a vast majority of films, to their credit, choose to focus in on for their duration.

Indeed, what we get is a grandiose tale that explores the nature of father-son relationships and the often devastating consequences of either piece of the family puzzle going missing.

Gosling is once again playing the strong, silent type — but to degrees none of us really will ever be able to comprehend. He’s Luke Glanton, a talented stunt biker with all kinds of tattoos that at once distinguish his personality. When he discovers one day that he has a child, he leaves his job as a traveling performer in an attempt to be in his child’s life. The waters are further muddied because the girl he’s conceived the child with is living with a man named Kofi (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) who is more than adamant that he be considered the child’s father. Remaining determined that he will not be completely shoved out of Romina’s (Eva Mendes) and the kid’s life, Luke meets a back country car mechanic (Ben Mendelsohn) who instills in him the notion that he can still provide for his family……if he starts robbing banks.

Luke’s story arc — that is to say, the first third of the film — is arguably the darkest and most vulnerable psychological state Cianfrance visits  throughout the two-plus-hour affair. If it’s not either of those things, then it clearly establishes the film’s tone and style and foreshadows a lot more unpleasantness to come. His character is deeply troubled and the circumstances surrounding it are not so much conventional as they are physical manifestations of despair, even abandonment and isolation. The film is brilliant in this regard: its consistent placement of characters in places that substantiate the notion that one is a product of one’s own environment. In this case, most of the characters we encounter are going to be tragic.

As tensions in Luke’s life begin to escalate, we are seamlessly whisked into the story of another: that of Brad Cooper’s Avery Cross, whose immediate appearance is that of a dignified, well-respected officer within a corrupt Schenectady precinct. Exactly how Gosling and Cooper become entangled I can’t say unless you don’t mind spoilers, but suffice it to say that when they do meet it’s but one example of how well the stories flow into one another; of how necessary the extensive length of the narrative really is. Had these transitions been handled differently, or gone any other way other than how they work in Cianfrance’s follow-up to 2010’s Blue Valentine, perhaps the narrative would have seemed excessive or self-obsessed. But it doesn’t. Everything has purpose, everything has its own place, it’s own right to exist within the gray-and-green world of this place beyond the pines.

Cooper’s role as the policeman provides a different perspective on the father-son relationship, as well as sets up the final third act of the film, which takes place some fifteen years on after Avery Cross is first introduced. By this point, we have become invested enough in the individual worlds of the characters that this considerable shift in time is anything but a distracting, contrived plot device. In fulfilling what the film is endeavoring to reveal concerning fate and consequence, we transition into the turbulent lives of youths Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen), the respective offspring of our two main protagonists (Luke and Avery).

Even if this third and final segment possesses elements that harken to the pathos of those “Above the Influence” anti-drug campaigns, and therefore seems less than original, these sentiments are no less compelling or befitting of this rather bleak picture. Both teens are archetypes of the troubled youth whose lives are mired in anger, drugs and a lack of personal identity. They come to symbolize the very actions and non-actions taken by those that have come before them, simultaneously comprising a storyline that is interesting in and of itself.

However, the main pride and joy of Cianfrance’s masterpiece is surely the combined efforts of Gosling and Cooper. Both actors are on their A-game and are never less than compelling to watch. Eva Mendes puts on an impressive and distinguished performance as well, diverting from her far-too-easily typecast role as the original Fast and the Furious babe. As Romina, Mendes certainly can’t escape her own attractiveness but her emotional fragility more than overwhelms and makes her character rich and dramatic, aiding the story of both Luke and Avery. And of course there’s Ray Liotta, the reliably gruff, crooked cop, Deluca. Ben Mendelsohn, as small a part as he’s provided here, rounds out a very talented cast as a wayward but still likable auto mechanic, Robin.

Taken as a whole, the experience of Beyond the Pines is something epic and unique. The story unfolds and keeps unfolding until the very last shot — a gorgeous one at that, with another brilliantly placed motorcycle ride out in the hillsides of eastern New York State. (If you check this out, you’ll see why it’s so brilliant.) Maybe you’ll also feel the running time, but only because you’ll also be feeling that you’ve journeyed through each one of the characters’ lives and shared their pain. It’s not always a pleasant ride, but it’s thoroughly engaging. It also rewards your patience with a very satisfying conclusion that’s neither overstated nor predictable.

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4-5Recommendation: I believe this film to be the first film of 2013 that is an absolute must-see. An unforgettable experience, no matter if you come away with a profound impression or feeling so-so about it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 140 mins.

Quoted: “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com