Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke
Due to a very limited released and a busy schedule, I missed Only God Forgives when it was in theaters. I now realize that was a good thing. I saved myself the $10 or whatever it would have cost. A young sixteen year old prostitute is brutally raped and killed and left a bloody mess. Her father in turn kills the man (Burke) that killed her. When the police arrive, they take the father and head lieutenant Chang (Pansringarm) cuts his arm off for allowing her to stay in the world of prostitution. The rapist’s brother Julian (Gosling) learns of his brother’s death and is conflicted about what his next steps are. Their mother Crystal (Thomas) comes to Thailand to take matters into her own hands when Julian informs her he didn’t kill the man that killed his brother. This all takes place in and around a Bangkok boxing club run by Julian that is a front for massive drug smuggling and prostitution.
Crystal is a very different role for Thomas. She plays a dysfunctional, drug smuggling, vulgar, violent, somewhat slutty mother always with a long cigarette in her hand. She seems to be made up like one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. There is also the weird relationship between her and Julian. She informs him that brother Billy was the one she loved. “And you’re right. I don’t understand you. And I never will,” she tells him. I hate to say it but Gosling seems a bit wasted here. Much of what he has to do is done in silence and done with such a stone cold face that I missed out on the Gosling that is so fantastic in so many other roles, like The Place Beyond the Pines that also came out this year.
You will notice early on that the Refn asks for a patient and attentive audience as there is very little dialogue throughout. The story is told through sharp imagery and sound effects. The sound of violence is prevalent with gunfire, the use of a samurai sword, knife work, and glass shattering taking over scenes instead of dialogue. Composer Cliff Martinez is back again to work with Refn after penning the score to Drive. That soundtrack still gets played on my iPod. His score here is one of the few highlights of the movie. Martinez notes that Refn wrote a full screenplay with dialogue and action, but instead chose to mute a majority of it making the score and sound effects drive the scenes.
When I first heard of the second collaboration between Refn and Gosling, I was really excited. Gosling also starred in Drive which was one of my favorite films of 2011. So much of the style and artistic vision which worked so well in Drive seems very pushed and shoved in your face here. There is this constant feeling of “Look how great this shot is” “Look how artistic we’re being” “Look at bloody and violent this film is”. There are many wide and long shots of hallways, hallways, and more hallways. When I feel like artistic choices are so blatant and obvious I wonder what the point the filmmaker is trying to say. There are so many choices that feel so contrived and pretentious just for the sake of it. I did not quite understand what Refn was trying to say or what point he was making. Was this an homage to Asian cinema? Was he just trying to make a violent shock fest? Yes, some of the shots and imagery are gorgeous. You will be compelled to watch various scenes as they can be quite intriguing and pick apart various frames that get stuck in your head. Other times you may just shake your head and roll your eyes.
RATING: * 1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)