Friday, March 13. Uh oh. Not an auspicious date for your film to drop on Netflix, streaming to the millions of screens that are out there thirsting for new content as the world faces a possible pandemic . . .

But then luck is not really a character in Lost Girls, the story of a woman who disappears and, in so doing, lights a match to an over-looked and heart-breaking problem that has just been waiting to be ignited.

The New York Times/Manohla Dargis
Lost Girls Review: Honoring the Gone Girls, With Sorrow and Rage

Few deaths in movies are handled with the contempt that some filmmakers show murdered sex workers. It’s one reason that the true-crime drama “Lost Girls” feels so bracing: It humanizes women often represented as disposable, more props than people. When a mother in the movie laments that her missing daughter, a sex worker, has been forgotten along with other women, her words feel like an accusation. When “our girls” are remembered, she says, it’s never as “friend, sister, mother, daughter.”

That condemnation runs like a pulsating current through “Lost Girls,” which centers on Mari Gilbert, a flinty heartbreaker played by Amy Ryan. A sober chronicle of victimization and empowerment, the movie tracks Mari’s search for her daughter Shannan, who vanished after meeting a client. The world sees a missing prostitute as an inevitability rather than a tragedy or outrage; Mari sees a beloved child and, in time, a cause that’s as political as it is personal. It’s a good, righteous fit for the director Liz Garbus, a documentarian drawn to stories about social justice, here making her fiction-feature debut. (Her docs include “What Happened, Miss Simone?”)

Amy Ryan as Mari Gilbert

The real story is grim and shrouded in mystery. Early on May 1, 2010, Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker who advertised on Craigslist, called 911 screaming, “They’re trying to kill me.” She then disappeared. Late that same year, a police dog sniffed out the corpse of a different woman in the same Long Island area where Shannan was last seen. Other bodies and body parts were recovered; one victim traced back to the mid-1990s. When most of the victims were identified as prostitutes, a detective said it was a “consolation” that the killer didn’t seem to be “selecting citizens at large.”

It’s easy to imagine Garbus reading that comment and becoming incensed. (The line appears in Robert Kolker’s “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,” the sympathetic book on which the movie is based.) There are different ways to describe Garbus’s telling of this mystery: it’s serious, respectful, gravely melancholic. Yet anger best describes the movie’s atmosphere, its overall mood and its authorial tone. In some scenes, anger seems to hover over characters, as threatening as the movie’s permanently dark skies; at other times, it erupts, flushing faces and distorting voices. It ebbs and flows; every so often, it spills over until you feel it seeping into you.

Read the rest of this incisive review, please. I cannot in good faith quote much more of it and, even though The New York Times and I are currently at odds with one another regarding their political coverage, I must say this review by Ms. Dargis is one of the best reviews I’ve read by a critic so far.

Gabriel Byrne as Police Commissioner With No Name at this Time

Okay. Maybe one more little bit of it…

In time, Mari’s personal ordeal opens into a haunting examination of gender and power, men and women. On one side of this divide the movie offers dead, grieving, angry, activist women; on the other it presents men who, with few exceptions, uphold the noxious status quo whether as suspects or members of the largely male police force that includes a weary commissioner (Gabriel Byrne). In another movie, this divide might seem reductive, even reactionary. Here, it feels distressingly matter-of-fact in a movie that, at its simplest and most fundamental, asks us to remember some women who died and others who, at least for a while, managed to tell the stories.

I will always applaud Gabriel Byrne’s work with women directors and, in this case, his wonderful collaboration over the years with Amy Ryan. These stories may not be “his” stories and he may play unlikeable or “gray” characters in some of them, but he still chooses to participate in them and I am very glad he does. His work with women directors has been outstanding, in my opinion, and I hope he continues to find creative women with whom to join forces in telling stories.

Watch the film on Netflix if you can. I will write an essay about it in the near future.

7 Comments

  1. I have been awaiting this film with great anticipation. And I was not disappointed. Amy Ryan and Gabriel are playing fantastic! The film is stirring, disturbing and upsetting. It shows how false morality can lead to a serial killer never being caught until today. How a mother fights for her daughter’s justice and for a Ethik in the society. It’s just great!

    • Glad to hear your positive comments, Rosi! It will be good to see Amy Ryan and Gabriel share the screen again. They are always great together. <3

  2. Amy Ryan is fascinating and nuanced as the mother who fights police and media apathy to find her daughter. She is incredible in this role. Gabriel Byrne brings his world weary but sympathetic take on the policeman. They face off in a remarkable way. Lost Girls is #2 on Netflix Canada today. Watch it now.

    • I can’t watch it now! I’m stocking up my pantry for the End Times!

      Seriously, I’m going to watch it at some point over the next few days. Looks like there will be plenty of time and opportunity to watch it more than once.

      Thanks for your comments. I know this is going to be a tough story, but I’m ready for it. <3

  3. Verónica

    I watch this film without moving from my chair during the whole time. It is a film that shocks you in many ways. In first place the mother (Amy Ryan) who doesn’t give up looking to find her missing daughter, facing everyone, including the Police Chief, in search of the truth, through thick and thin, keeping her faith until the end. It is interesting the presentation of the true family at the end of the film and shocking the end of that brave woman. Will it ever be known who the serial killer is and if he will receive what he deserves in the hands of Justice?
    As for the performances, Amy Ryan’s work was outstanding, promising Thomasin McKenzie, and Gabriel had a very respectable performance.
    I liked !!!

    • It’s funny, Verónica. I just left a comment over at the Facebook Page about this. Liz Garbus, the director, and Amy Ryan have both said they hope this film helps shine a light on the open case and that it attracts the attention of the authorities again. We shall see what happens. We always hope for justice. And sometimes, we get it. <3

  4. Verónica

    Yes Stella. This movie is a very important message to the Authorities who are involved with these sad events and we hope there will be justice for the poor relatives who were left behind.

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