meIn the run-up to the release of Only God Forgives, director Nicolas Winding Refn gave an interview in which he referred to himself as “a pornographer,” forced to make images that turn him on without necessarily processing what they mean or the effect that they could have. in a hearing. A few months earlier, Only God Forgives had opened to the worst reception of any film in competition at Cannes (preceding a string of negative reviews after its release), the opposite of the ecstasy that Refn’s Drive had received two years earlier when it won a standing ovation, an award for best director and the runway for his greatest commercial success by far. What had changed so much from one movie to another?
The answer is everything and nothing. Like any pornographer, there’s a part of Refn that’s just plain wicked: Only God Forgives puts a largely stoic Ryan Gosling back into a nightly underworld of depravity and ultraviolence, but it removes all the gendered emotions that made Drive such a pleasure. : the breakaway opening sequence, with its bursts of speed and hide and seek with the police; a pawn shop robbery gone terribly wrong; Albert Brooks’ delightful performance as a vicious gangster. Instead, Refn imposes an atmosphere of sleepwalking terror and inevitably a neon nightmare unfolding in slow motion.
Only God Forgives exists in a kind of cinematic no-man’s-land, too arched for fans of the genre and too grotesque for the auteur setting. And yet it is fully in keeping with Refn’s evolution as a filmmaker, which began with the renewed pulp of his Pusher trilogy and has grown in formal rigor ever since, turning into a 2009 Norse adventure film, Valhalla Rising, which It starts out as a bloodbath of the Crusades and gets more and more abstract as it progresses. Despite Refn’s evident ability to stage shocking action sequences, he is increasingly interested in deconstructing and manipulating our expectations of what genre films should be. That is maddening. It is also, in the right frame of mind, fascinating.
By opening the film to bright reds and deep blacks, Refn is creating a noir color, replacing the single-source black and white of American classics with an equally striking study of contrasts. Few neo-noirs have made such a strong visual impression, because they don’t limit their visual palette as much as Refn does here: each painting is carved with precise colors and lights, like the panels in a graphic novel. Combined with the humming synths of Cliff Martinez, who had also composed the soundtrack for Drive, as well as many Steven Soderbergh films, the film achieves more through mood than action, capturing the dilemma of an anti-hero out there. in a paralyzing moral state. limbo.
As Julian, manager of a boxing club and drug dealer, Gosling plays a man who is part and apart of the Bangkok underworld, someone who offers and indulges in vice, but discovers that it has its limits. His older brother Billy has no such scruples: He is shown hanging around a brothel for a 14-year-old before raping and murdering a prostitute two years older. His mother Crystal is equally upset. Played by Kristin Scott Thomas in a performance that changes her image as radically as Brooks in Drive, Crystal arrives in Bangkok seeking revenge when the victim’s father kills Billy himself. That puts them in conflict with Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a police lieutenant who wields a sword and has an extrajudicial approach to law enforcement.
There are a lot of fun things, intentionally and unintentionally, about Only God Forgives, starting with the reveal of Julian’s status as the cuckold in his brother’s oedipal relationship with his mother. Directly interpreted, the film would be a juvenile cardboard, a finely drawn story of retribution marked by exoticism and ultraviolence. But Refn keeps the focus on Gosling as a kind of flattering Hamlet, forced into this dangerous position of having to do his mother’s orders while understanding the moral evil of it. His indecision bleeds into a comical fight scene with Chang in which he doesn’t punch, which may be just plain ineptitude, but also reveals a lack of conviction.
Much of Refn’s seriousness here is a “Kick Me” sign, culminating in a shot where Julian’s longing for his mother’s absent warmth takes on grotesquely literal form. But Only God Forgives has a dreamlike vividness that is neither easy to conjure nor to easily shake, in the service of a character who has been turned into a zombie by circumstance, stumbling upon events that he does not have the courage or courage to stop. It embodies everything that is frustrating about the movie, and also everything that is bold about it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism