Why Ryan Gosling’s Directorial Debut Lost River Deserves to be Revisited



  • Despite receiving negative reviews, Lost River deserves a second chance or to be newly discovered by fans of Ryan Gosling.
  • The film centers around a family struggling to survive in a desolate Detroit and is filled with mystery, underground worlds, and the meeting of eroticism and violence.
  • While Lost River may not be a carbon copy of Gosling’s previous works or the filmmakers that inspired it, it showcases his versatility and willingness to embrace various forms of artistic expression.

Ryan Gosling has become one of Hollywood’s most beloved and revered actors thanks to his versatility, which can see him playing polarizing roles, such as Driver in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive to Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie; his handsome look and vibrant personality certainly does not hurt either. As such, you would be hard-pressed to find someone unaware of the actor and, even then, find people who dislike him as a performer, given the wide range of roles across various genres.

However, there is one film that Gosling was involved in that was received so poorly that it may have killed some of his future ambitions as a creative. We are talking about the much-maligned and critically panned film Lost River. Released in 2015 and debuting at Cannes, the film has received many negative comments from critics and fans, but we will look at why the movie deserves a second chance or to be newly discovered by fans of the iconic actor.

Plot and Cast of Lost River

Lost River centers itself around a family struggling to survive in a desolate Detroit, where the pending destruction of their home forced the mother, Billy, and the eldest son, Bones, to take on questionable work while avoiding predatory and violent individuals. For Bones, he attempts to strip copper only to find a vicious teen who has already claimed the abandoned properties. Billy starts a job at a club specializing in Grand Guignol-esque showpieces. When Bones discovers a lost town underneath a river, the mystery of its past begins to tie all the events together through some intangible mysticism.

The movie stars Christina Hendricks as Billy and Iain De Caestecker as Bones. Hendricks is best known for her role in Mad Men, playing Joan Harris/Holloway. Iain De Caestecker’s most notable role would be Leo Fitz in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. The rest of the cast includes Saoirse Ronan (Hana) as Rat, Eva Mendes (The Place Beyond the Pines) as Cat, Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) as Dave, and Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) as Bully. Gosling would also bring on a cult icon of Italian cinema in Barbara Steele (Black Sunday), who has a small part as Rat’s grandmother.

What The Critics and Fans Had to Say About Ryan Gosling’s Lost River

Upon its debut, Gosling’s Lost River received many scathing reviews. John Powers of Vogue would pose the question if the movie were the worst directorial debut from an actor to ever appear at Cannes (he later admitted that honor belongs to Johnny Depp’s The Brave). He would further call it a poor amalgamation of Gosling’s inspirations from David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Harmony Korine, and Nicolas Winding Refn. Other negative comments include Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, who commented, “Think Wikipedia essay rather than a love letter.”

While it is more difficult to focus on audience reviews without going into flippant reactions, the consensus on the film is equally poor. The movie sits only at 38% on Rotten Tomatoes with audiences. One audience review summed up many negative thoughts by saying, “obsessed with style, tone, and visuals, that loses its sense of narrative and a compelling story.” Still, there is a small vocal minority who have gone on to praise the movie, with one user calling Lost River a “Surreal tragedy of love in the middle of lost places.’

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Why Lost River Deserves to Be Revisited/Discovered

One of the major critiques of Gosling’s Lost River came from it being a poor replication of other great filmmakers, and while there is a degree of truth in that statement, it also exists as an overly harsh critique. Notably, movies often come under heavier scrutiny when entering the more ‘artistic’ features that debut at a prestigious festival like Cannes. Wearing your influences on your sleeve is not always frowned upon in other genres, such as comedy and horror. When framing the movie in that context, the value of Lost River becomes more of an issue of whether the film is ‘good’ or not, which is much more subjective.

Even if one were to make a direct comparison to the other filmmakers that inspired Gosling, particularly framing it when it was released after both Drive and Only God Forgives, the feature is far from a carbon copy of the work of Refn, or any of the previously mentioned obvious inspirations pointed out in the Vogue review. The decay of culture through poverty, outlandish characters, and slow-flowing dialogue feel reminiscent of Korine. However, its visual flair does align more with Refn; one can either embrace that or scoff at it, but it is unfair to say it is a direct rip-off of past influences.

Many elements of the production work when singled out, and even among the scathing reviews, the performances were not nearly as maligned as the film itself. Christina Hendricks, in particular, does a sensational job of navigating the complex underground world of performance art that celebrates the meeting of eroticism and violence. At the same time, Matt Smith gives an utterly intimidating performance as the Bully. The cinematography has moments of beauty that are undeniably profound in both visual and narrative significance, and the score by Johnny Jewel is impeccable.

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Would we want to see Gosling direct another film? While it would be promising to see what he could do from what he learned from Lost River, his iconic acting career would not necessarily be worth putting aside to make another film. Still, Lost River is worth revisiting and shows the versatility and willingness to embrace various forms of artistic expression that have made him so revered.

Where to Watch Last River

While Lost River remains divisive, with more negative reviews than positive, you can check out the movie to come to your own conclusion. Just be aware that those uncomfortable with sensitive subjects and violence will find the film far removed from the more romanticized vision of Gosling. Ryan Gosling’s Lost River is not currently available for streaming but is available for rent on various platforms, including Apple TV, YouTube, and Google Play.

Rent Lost River on Apple TV+

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