OTTL Reviews: Lost River

Okay, okay, it’s not strictly a Doctor Who product but it is Matt Smith’s first Hollywood role post-Who so indulge film chatter-aboutter Mark Donaldson as he gets the chance to talk about an actual film; Ryan Gosling’s futuristic foreclosure fairy tale Lost River.


When an actor makes their directorial debut it can sometimes be hard to concentrate on the film over the sound of critics sharpening their knives. Ryan Gosling’s debut feature has been called “fantastically annoying”, and the post-Cannes re-edit compared to giving Hitler a haircut. So aye, the knives are very much out. 

Set in an almost abandoned near-future Detroit, populated with derelict buildings and horror-porn cabaret clubs; it follows the story of Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and his mother Billy (An underused and impossibly glamorous Christina Hendricks) as they struggle to escape this dark underworld they’ve found themselves in.

For the most part the criticisms of the film are spot-on; it doesn’t have a definable independent voice, it does borrow wholesale from Nicholas Winding-Refn and David Lynch, it is all surface and no substance, none of these characters are believable. Furthermore, it feels very much like a student film given a very handsome budget. The characters are given names like Bully (Matt Smith) because he’s a psychopath or Rat (Saoirse Ronan) because she has a pet rat. As if giving them a weak character trait is equatable to giving them motivation and personality.

It’s not a complete loss; Gosling knows how to frame a good looking shot, and there is some beautiful use of light and colour due to the involvement of cinematographer Benoît Debie. Meanwhile, the always brilliant Ben Mendelsohn adds another delightfully scuzzy and unpleasant character to his CV with seedy bank manager and nightclub owner Dave, in one of the most memorable scenes; crooning away like Nick Cave.

But look, this is On the Time Lash, you want to know about Matt Smith. Gosling cast Smith after watching him deliver the Pandorica speech so it’s odd that we only ever get about a minute of Smith in full flow, microphone in hand telling Bones to keep away from his “fucking copper”. A lot of Smith’s material was removed in a re-edit that excised about 10 minutes worth of footage, so what we’re left with is him brooding a lot, howling at the moon, and generally looking a bit menacing. He does have an air of danger about him, retaining that 11th Doctor swagger when he patrols his domain. It’s just a real shame the script never gives him anything properly weighty to deal with. Bully is merely a functional part, the beast that must be slain for this fairy tale to reach its (sort of) happy ending.

Matt Smith has proven in some of his Doctor Who stories that he can do a lot with a lackluster script, sadly he is clearly struggling to inject anything into a very sparse and empty character. This is not the film that showcases Smith’s many talents as an actor and propels him into the limelight.

Maybe the next one will have a better chance….


Oh for fu…

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