Lost River 2015 ***


Ryan Gosling’s much derided debut feature is a surprisingly vivid Detroit melodrama with magic realist leanings.  Despite colourless male leads, Christina Hendrix proves the most empathetic through-line as a young mother whose creepy bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) inveigles her into a dark world of underground clubs, where Eva Mendes and her crew present stylised acts of mutilation art to a paying crowd.  Casting Barbara Steele instead of the intended target Karen Black in a maternal role pushes the genre a little further towards horror than required, and Matt Smith’s villain is pallid, but there’s something oddly compelling about Gosling’s thriller, from the opening image of a flaming, rider-less bicycle onwards.


The Sweet Hereafter 1997 ***


Armenian director Atom Egoyan’s output is patchy; his best work, like Exotica, is dense and brilliant, but his willingness to look at the darker side of work has kept him well away from the mainstream. His 1997 adaptation of Russell Banks novel  is a sober, sobering drama about a small town where a generation of schoolchildren have died in a bus accident. Into the town comes Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm), an insurance investigator who has troubles of his own; he saved his own daughter years previously, but has become detached and removed from her. Stevens begins to work his way through the accounts of the grieving parents, and Egoyan skilfully uses flashbacks to skip back and forward to the town pore-accident and the aftermath. The use of Robert Browning’s poem about the Pied Piper is one of the few obvious clues to Egoyan’s intent; The Sweet Hereafter is a haunting lament for lost innocence. Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Polley are amongst the supporting cast.

The Machinist 2004 ***


Brad Anderson’s cache as a director has fallen somewhat since 2004’s The Machinist, with a regular diet of jobbing TV work and the dubious Halle Berry phone-line drama The Call hardly suggesting an auteur at work. But The Machinist is an intense low-budget thrill[er, with Barcelona doubling for a seedy Los Angeles, and a stunning performance by Christian Bale at the centre. As Trevor Reznik, Bale dropped 70 pounds and appears emaciated as a man whose tortured soul doesn’t allow him to sleep due to a guilty conscience; he blames himself for an industrial accident in which co-worker Miller (Michael Ironside) lost an arm. The appearance of a crudely-drawn hangman figure suggests that Trevor was external persecutors, but it’s also possible he’s losing his mind. The Machinist is an uncomfortable film to watch, but if dark thrillers are to your taste, Anderson’s film falls somewhere between Memento and Se7en in terms of exposing the jet-black side of modern life.

Eyes Wide Shut 1999 *****


After a year-long production that tied up two of the world’s highest paid actors (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), Stanley Kubrick’s final film was greeted with confusion when it arrived in 1999. Expectations of a psycho-analytical thriller were confounded by the gothic majesty of Eyes Wide Shut, adapted by Frederic Raphael from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle. Cruise plays affluent NYC doctor William Hartford, whose suspicions about his wife’s past lead him to take a walk on the wild side of life. A chance encounter with pianist Nick Nightingale (Todd Field) leads Hardford to a country-house orgy hosted by a mysterious consortium; could Victor Zeigler (Sydney Pollack) hold the answers? Cruise gives a stunningly-wrought performance as a respectable man coming to the end of his tether, and there’s stand-out support from Alan Cumming and Leelee Sobieski. Eyes Wide Shut’s 159 minute running time feels like an expanded director’s cut, but the puzzles and symbolism of Kubrick’s final vision dig deeply into the psyche of the repressed modern man.

The Day of the Locust 1975 ***


One of those big Hollywood films that deal candidly with how awful making big Hollywood film was, John Schlesinger’s 1975 drama was a considerable box-office failure, it’s downbeat tone at odds with the mid-seventies period nostalgia. Waldo Salt adapts Nathanael West’s novel about the backstabbing that went on offstage, unglamorously presented. William Atherton plays Todd Hackett, who comes to Hollywood seeking fame sand fortune, but finds only drugs, booze and Karen Black as a fading ingénue. Donald Sutherland portrays social outcast Homer Simpson, and the concluding scenes, in which he’s physically ripped apart by an angry mob, are disturbing. Well acted and serious minded, Day of the Locust is a quality drama with lots to say, albeit much of it damning about 1930’s America.