Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

Lost River (2014)

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Everyone was curious and excited when Ryan Gosling announced he was going to make a film. I was even more curious when I heard about its appalling reception at Cannes, since the last film I heard such a kerfuffle about at Cannes was The Tree of Life, which, while I am to this day in two minds over, was at least worth the watch.

Lost River is set in a dilapidated American small town created in the aftermath of a reservoir that flooded the old town. Where? Doesn’t matter, but it’s really dilapidated. This town, from which the film takes its name, is home to Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother who finds herself in debt and out of luck while her son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) gets himself into altercations with Bully (Matt Smith), the town bully. Lost River is not high on subtlety, despite taking its aesthetic cues from the vastly more subtle Nicolas Winding Refn.

The story of these people is somewhat scattered. It seems as if Gosling was aiming for a grungy urban-fairytale vibe but didn’t know exactly where to take it. The film is a more a collection of tropes than a story, the mute grandmother watching a wedding video, the superstitious girl-next-door and the sleazy macabre nightclub. These are all great ideas, and they’re paired with striking imagery and some good performances, so it’s a shame that none of them really go anywhere. These odd events and people just coexist intercut next to each other looking really really stylish in shades of purple and orange. Just as you think you’ve had your fill of mildly surrealistic picture perfect poverty, Rat (Saoirse Ronan) reveals the “curse” that lies over Lost River, that can only be broken by bringing a piece of the drowned town to the surface. Later in the film the piece brought to the surface will turn out to be a dinosaur head, from the prehistoric theme park in the drowned town. There is no reason for this park to have been created, in fact it has to be clumsily added into an educational video about the reservoir for it to make any sense at all. The layers of artifice just build and build.

All in all the film is just thin. The plot doesn’t really hold together, none of the characters are developed beyond small quirks and idiosyncrasies. Like the forlorn teenagers putting on something fancy to go hang around abandoned factories the film is dressed up with nowhere to go. Slow motion burning houses, yes, are cool. So are soundtracks made exclusively of pulsing electro beats and so are gold sequined jackets. In fact the film is so painfully cool that you can almost forgive it being nothing else, almost. I’m sure some people will love it for its compelling visual style and the heightened fetished weirdness, but it feels very much like an exercise in aesthetic emptiness.

  • Entertainment: 2/5
  • Artistic:             2/5
  • Intellectual:      0/5
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Only God Forgives – 2013

only-god-forgives05Today I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Refn’s new film. I don’t know what I was expecting as I walked into the cinema but I was treated to a shocking orgy of colour, gore and sound. A revenge drama turned Freudian nightmare Only God Forgives is revelatory and unsettling.

I was surprised to find that Refn himself is in fact colourblind. This film, even more than Drive, is framed in darkness and shot through with neon blue and flame red. This makes it a bizarre experience to watch as often 80% of the screen or more is taken up with blackness. The characters seem to emerge softly from this blackness like thoughts from the subconscious mind.

The soundtrack is utterly immersive. Once more Cliff Martinez has understood and heightened Refn’s visuals through surreal and haunting sound effects, exaggerated ambient noise and almost tribal club beats. The result is a raw emotional reaction which is more reminiscent of an accomplished music video than a film. The sound is not just a backing track, it is a storytelling device in it’s own right and it is exciting to see Refn develop this tool from Drive to Only God Forgives where it is far superior.

I found myself reminded throughout the film of Last Year at Marienbad. Quite apart from the surrealist blurring of reality throughout the film, the camera lingers and tracks slowly through dark, lush corridors. The main cast is surrounded by still, lifeless dolls who do not, or cannot interact with the tumult they are so close to. The true characters loom like monoliths. They are not real people, these characters; they are representations of some higher human truth. Wrath, greed, lust, motherhood. However this is not to devalue the performances of the principal cast. In what is almost entirely a silent movie these actors convey a wide range of emotion through body language alone. This is particularly true of Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, who plays the role of a young woman working as Julian’s (Ryan Gosling) escort who utters one line before becoming a symbol of displaced eroticism.

Speaking of eroticism, it is difficult to find something within this film which is not fetishized. Even a violent, bloody murder is portrayed in terms of corporeal lust. Kristin Scott Thomas as the erotic Oedipal mother figure is aggressively sexual and further sexualised by the cinematography. Her bleached blonde ringlets and leopard-print outfits make her the ultimate in hypersexuality. What makes the character so disturbing is the relationship with her son. Removed from the context many of Scott-Thomas’s lines sound as if they are being said to a lover, certainly not a family member. However this taboo seems natural in the underworld this film inhabits.

Gosling, on the other hand shows us a man caught in a dance of revenge which he neither started nor can escape. His opponent, played by Vithaya Pansringarm, is an impassive man who kills with as little passion as he sings karaoke. Over the course of the film we see that a fight, even when you have an enemy can only truly be with yourself. By winning you lose your innocence, by losing you lose yourself.

 

The Place Beyond The Pines – 2012

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Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stuntman, turned criminal trying to provide for his infant son. On the other side of the coin is Avery (Bradley Cooper), a police officer also blessed with a young son. In many ways this is a film about fatherhood. Luke becomes a bank robber, stealing from and terrorising innocent people for the money they have power over. His actions are born not from hate or greed, but the simple desire to provide for his son. He is a good father but a bad citizen. As the film progresses, the idea of citizenship becomes more and more murky. Avery, a trained lawyer with impeccable moral values, becomes a local hero and rises through the ranks – while all the while betraying his own moral code.  Tragically, in all his success, he has failed to raise his son with any care or affection. By getting rid of ‘the bad guy’, he has deprived two children of the love of their father: and he fails to relate to his own son knowing that there is another son without a father because of his actions.

 

This story unfolds gracefully and slowly. We see all the details of this tragedy. The line between criminal and police officer becomes more and more blurred. Avery is deep in a deeply corrupt system. He, like Luke before him, objects to the double standards and turns to corruption himself. It seems that these two men stand alone against a sea of the selfish and entitled residents. The film loses momentum about halfway through and seems to be a cynical, self-involved tragedy that is going nowhere. It has been beautiful, cinematographically excellent, and engagingly written, but it has no point. This changes with a single title card:

 

15 Years Later

 

In the third act of the film the tensions are finally played out, not by our earlier protagonists, but by their children. In a dance of divine retribution the two sons have become mirrors of their fathers and each other. Jason, Luke’s son, is in a stable home, he seems to be doing well and is loved and supported by his mother and step-father. Avery’s son AJ, meanwhile, has grown up disturbed in a broken home. His mother doesn’t know how to relate to him and his father refuses to. A cruel reversal of what their fates would have been.

 

Much is made of the similarities between the two men and their children. Both boys in certain lights are almost identical to their parents. As the parents once echoed one another, the children do too. Even reacting in the same way as their fathers when threatened or angered . The parallels are subconscious, yet more and more it does not matter whether Jason interacts with Avery or AJ, the effect is the same, the father and son are continuations of one another. At these points the cinematography, which, while beautiful throughout (courtesy of Sean Bobbitt who also brought us ‘Shame’ and ‘Hunger’), becomes truly breathtaking. The encounters between Jason and AJ echo scenes from earlier in the film. The camera angles are repeated almost shot-for-shot at times, making for haunting, almost subconscious recollections.

 

The real tragedy of the story is that these people, all of them, are not making their own decisions. They are caught up in a fight for karmic balance, which takes seventeen years to become stable after Luke destroyed it. When we first met Luke he was part of a travelling fair, he did not belong in this leafy town. This was clear from the moment we saw him: tattooed, chain smoking and wearing threadbare clothes even in church. The balance of this town is changed by his arrival and two families are touched by his presence. Nothing can return to its level until Jason, the spiritual continuation of Luke, closes the circle.