Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

Lost River

Lost River
Lost River

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 April 2015

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Ryan Gosling

Writer: Ryan Gosling

Cast: Iain De Caestecker, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn

USA 2014

95 mins

In the largely deserted, rotting metropolis of Lost River, single mother of two Billy (Christina Hendricks) is two months behind on the payments that will stop the house she loves from being destroyed. Desperate, she confronts the new bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) about her situation, only for him to offer her employment at his nightclub, a strange burlesque/grand guignol establishment. She becomes a performer, but the increasingly forceful Dave keeps pressing for her to work downstairs, where the real money is to be made. Meanwhile her eldest son, Bones (Iain de Caestecker), is also deep in trouble, as his ‘work’ stripping copper from abandoned buildings brings him into conflict with local psycho Bully (Matt Smith*). He is torn between fleeing the city and staying for the sake of his mother, and for his burgeoning romance with neighbour Rat (Saiorse Ronan), who tells him that Lost River has been cursed, and that there is a way to break that curse.

Part modern American austerity drama, part neo-noir crime flick, part ‘hero’s journey’quest, Ryan Gosling’s first effort as writer/director is very likely going to split audiences between those who find it bewitching and those who find it unbearable. It’s going to get a proper kicking in some quarters, but I feel charitable towards it, mainly because the odd grab-bag of the cast (Joan from Mad Men! A Doctor Who! The creepy uncle out of Animal Kingdom! Eva Mendes!) seem to be having a whale of a time. Gosling, like many actor-turned-directors, indulges his cast their whims and fancies, always a risky strategy. But in this case it pays off in a number of odd little moments: Eva Mendes playing with Billy’s younger kid, plastered in fake blood; Matt Smith’s interaction with a baffled (non-pro) old lady on a gas station forecourt; Ben Mendelsohn’s freaky dancing, his OTT karaoke turn on ‘Cool Water’, all feel loose, semi-improvised and playful, in a style that fits with the film’s other ace card: its thrift shop explosion/Detroit ruin porn aesthetic. The buildings are crumbling, and in the process have become theatres. There’s a post–apocalyptic carnival float feel to the visual design, where everything seems to be repurposed and recycled, all shot in Benoit Debi‘s fluid, richly coloured William Egglestone-a-like photography.

It’s certainly beautiful, it just doesn’t feel all that purposeful. This is partly down to a bit of a charisma vacuum at its core: for whatever reason, the lead character Bones just feels a lot less interesting or likeable than everyone around him. He has a function in the story but doesn’t really have much to do but brood, glower and run away for most of the film. There’s also a problem in that Billy’s travails at the saturnine night club don’t really integrate with the Bones fairy tale business. It feels like one of David Lynch’s noir nightmares has gotten entangled somehow with a Beasts of the Southern Wild bit of mythical indie heart-on-sleevery, the two parts dancing, lava lamp style, but never quite mixing. The urgency of the last twenty minutes or so, as both tales darken and climax (and Jimmy Jewel’s score really kicks in**), largely override these quibbles, but for long stretches Lost River feels a bit shapeless and diffuse, a messy patchwork of pretty things, most of them second hand, some of them cherishable. It’s as if first-time screenwriter Ryan Gosling has, against his better instincts, corralled his loose and multifarious ideas into a Robert McKee approved three-act plot-point hitting screenplay, and first-time director Ryan Gosling has taken that screenplay and done spontaneous and interesting things with it.

Worth a gamble. Hell, you might love it.

Mark Stafford

*Smith and Mendelsohn, though never meeting on screen, effectively do battle here as two different flavours of menacing sociopath. Mendelsohn, a previous Gold winner in this field, is ahead on points, but Smith’s sexually threatening moment (‘can I stroke it?’) with Saoirse Ronan’s rat, deserves special mention.

**Seriously though, what is it with brooding, John Carpenter-esque synth scores these days? It’s like the composers for this, Drive, It Follows and a fair few others all had a meeting, or started a Carpenter fan club or something. I am most definitely not complaining, mind. Try playing the soundtrack to It Follows on your headphones after stepping off the nightbus of an evening. That’ll put a spring in your step.

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Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives
Only God Forgives

Format: Cinema

Release date: 2 August 2013

BR/DVD release date: 2 December 2013

Distributor: Lionsgate UK

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

France, Thailand, USA, Sweden 2013

90 mins

Spellbinding, visionary and deeply affecting, Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive is one of the absolute must-sees of the year.

Gorgeous, mysterious, immersive, disturbing, dreamlike: with his new film, Nicolas Winding Refn has created one of those beguiling cinematic universes that you don’t want to leave when the credits roll.

From his hard-hitting debut Pusher, via the creepy Fear X, the violent machismo of Bronson and the mythical savagery of Valhalla Rising, Winding Refn has been exploring various facets of the male identity. With Drive in 2011, he has turned to a moodier masculinity, with the help of reluctant heartthrob Ryan Gosling. A bolder, more challenging film, Only God Forgives continues in the same vein, with Gosling playing another great, reticent, melancholy character of the kind he does so well.

Gosling’s Julian runs a boxing club in Thailand, which acts as a cover for his brother Billy’s drug trafficking. When Billy rapes and kills a young Thai prostitute, Julian is forced to deal with the consequences, and must face his overbearing mother Crystal and the fearsome police chief Chang. Verbally economical and visually sumptuous, the film relies on symbolic actions and images rather than words to tell its story – among some of the most memorable, a quixotic fight in a deserted boxing club, surreal police karaoke, a beautiful girl behind the gold curtain of a lapdancing club, and a scene of biblical violence amid a party of dressed-up girls with their eyes shut. The elliptical narrative is brilliantly edited, weaving together dream and reality until the boundaries are completely blurred, and connecting separate times and spaces to create intimate, invisible psychic ties between the characters.

In the Q&A that followed the screening, Winding Refn said that the film was about the idea of fighting God. Chang is indeed a God-like character, of the Old Testament kind, meting out a vengeful justice with an infallible sword and unwavering hand. In the opposite camp, Julian is a stranger in an unfamiliar land – which may well be his own mind – trying to cut a moral path in an immoral human jungle, fighting a doomed fight against forces too mighty, both inside and outside of himself.

The film’s sophisticated ideas are fleshed out by the excellent cast. Gosling brings the powerful mix of poignant sadness and underlying menace that makes him such a compelling actor to watch in Drive and The Place beyond the Pines. Kristin Scott-Thomas is a revelation as the bitchy, selfish, domineering, incestuous mother, while Vithaya Pansringarm has the commanding presence and awe-inspiring authority required for his role as Chang.

With its rich colours and intricate patterns, its sensual, oppressive light and oblique storytelling, and at its centre, a laconic, supernaturally powerful, sword-wielding protagonist, Only God Forgives feels like a very Asian movie, mixing the exquisite aesthetic sense of Chinese filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou with the brutal anti-heroes of Takeshi Kitano. In this darkly seductive, exotic cinematic land nestles the Heart of Darkness-type story (a stunning early sequence that sees Billy and Julian engaged in enigmatic drug talk in a shadowy room, with only their eyes lit, is reminiscent of the ending of Apocalypse Now). Winding Refn makes the influences and references his own with intelligence and imagination, producing his most accomplished work to date. Spellbinding, visionary, ambitious and deeply affecting, Only God Forgives is one of the absolute must-sees of the year.

Virginie Sélavy

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The Place beyond the Pines

The Place beyond the Pines

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 April 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Venues: Key cities

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendolsohn, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan

USA 2012

140 mins

For everyone who wasn’t into Derek Cianfrance’s eccentric, love and break-up story Blue Valentine (2010), the director’s latest offering starts off as a more thrilling, tense and ambiguous piece of work, not least in terms of making use of a fast-paced, crime-drama plot to explore the troubled mindset of his lead character, who finds himself confronted with his own actions and liabilities. Yet whether an abrupt genre twist in the second half of the film, and the decision to cast another of Hollywood’s currently most-wanted male actors as a co-lead, pays off to everyone’s satisfaction, may be the cause of some argument.

Ryan Gosling is Luke, a stunt-bike rider who learns that he has a son by one of his ex-lovers, Romina (Eva Mendes). All ready to man up, he instantly decides to swap his life riding the Cage of Death at funfairs for some time with his accidentally found family. Problem is, Luke doesn’t have the money to support the family in the way he feels he should, so it doesn’t take much for his new boss and drinking chum Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to convince him that, instead of sticking to a decent, if underpaid, job as a mechanic, they are better off robbing banks, using Luke’s motorcycle and vicious driving skills to dupe the police. But soon Luke can’t get enough, a raid goes terribly wrong, and then that’s that. In a quarter of a second, the focus shifts to seemingly mild-minded but zealous street cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who has his very own agenda, yet his life and Luke’s become inevitably entwined. After being injured during the raid, Avery plunges into a crisis that sees him dangerously caught in the system, while Cianfrance spares no effort pulling his new front man through every plot twist and turn that could possibly come out of such a premise, until all of the characters have finally revealed their true connections and colours.

Although the story becomes increasingly heavy-handed in places, and at times a little too clichéd, The Place Beyond the Pines benefits in no small part from Gosling’s contribution, delivering yet another convincing performance in a nuanced study of audacity and vulnerability. As long as he sets the pace, the film dazzles, surprises and amazes if, ultimately, it turns into a moody, meandering thriller-drama that falls slightly short of the mark and its bold, epic ambitions.

Pamela Jahn

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