Monday, July 22, 2013
Only God Forgives
ONLY GOD FORGIVES: Ryan Gosling, Nicolas Winding Refn, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (90 min.)
In 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling teamed up for a masterpiece. Drive is an exercise in tension, a minimalist crime thriller with bursts of action and violence framed by compelling human drama, all with very little dialogue from the story's hero, played by Gosling. This success is what made Only God Forgives so enticing. Refn and Gosling back together again, in another minimalist thriller, with more stoicism from its lead. The table was set for what could possibly turn into some sort of loose trilogy, call it "The Quiet Man Trilogy" if you will. That was my hope anyway. Unfortunately, this second pairing of the auteur and actor proves to be, quite frankly, a disastrous miscalculation. Only God Forgives is stunning, for sure; it is stunningly inept and stunningly dull, especially considering the talent involved. Sure it looks great, and sure it sounds wonderful, but what a hollow and idiotic film at the core.
The film is a simple tale of revenge. Well, simple to an extent. Ryan Gosling plays Julian, a mute who runs an underground boxing circuit in Thailand and also deals drugs, although we never see him doing either of these things. The opening scene has him sitting in the crowd during a boxing match, but not as if he's running anything. And as for the drug dealing career? We're just told that. Julian's brother is Billy, a scumbag who gets his rocks off raping and murdering teenage girls. At least his motivations can be explained away later in the film, but early on we meet him and see his actions and are just disgusted. Billy hires a young prostitute and murders her in a hotel room. This draws the attention of the local police, and a gangster or police detective or someone - it is never fully explained - named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Chang sets the daughter's father loose on Billy, and he caves in Billy's head.
Only God Forigves is a disaster, plain and simple. Some may praise it as a sort of cerebral masterwork of understatement and violence. They are wrong, that film is Drive. This film is violent for the sake of shock. There is a torture scene in the middle of the picture that has no substance, it simply exists just to make the viewer squeamish. And beyond making me squeamish, it came off as a little too amusing. I had high hopes for Refn and Gosling re-teaming for Only God Forgives, so perhaps that amplifies my disappointment. I'm just glad Drive came out before this film, because had it been the other way around I might not have wasted my time seeing Drive.