Yankee drug smuggler in Thailand (Ryan Gosling) is put through the ringer, when his brother is whacked and his castrating mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) demands revenge. Too bad the payback is supposed to go to to the slow walking, all knowing, karaoke abusing, head chopping and uber badass chief of police Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Here we go!
With the Pusher series, Drive and Valhalla Rising, Nicolas Winding Refn has become one of my favorite directors, up there with David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, Johnnie To, Takeshi Kitano, old school John Woo and old school Argento. To say I was stoked to see his new film ONLY GOD FORGIVES
would be an understatement. With that, I managed to go in there with little expectations as to what I was about to see, and even prepared as such, the movie wound up not being what I could have expected. After the screening, the more I talked about it and then thought about it on my way back to wherever I lay my head these days, the more I liked it, scratch that, loved it!
For those of you going in there expecting another Drive
, get ready to be let down big time. Where the latter had a mainstream quality to it that made it accessible to a wider audience, ONLY GOD FORGIVES went the polar opposite route. It was more in line with Refn's own Valhalla Rising
by way of Lynch's Lost Highway
than Drive. That's the way I saw it anyways. Now I have my theories as to what was TRULY going on in this celluloid trip, as the movie is not to be taken at face value if you ask me. Being that I don't want to spoil you're own discovery of it, I will only spit this, read the title out loud three times before going to see it, you may perceive what's going down in the movie differently after that. Personally, the affair sank its hooks in me deep right off the bat by establishing its initial premise in a fairly unorthodox way and to then have it unravel (often going against the grain in terms of turns) through the film's heightened reality and via bits that could be described as either dreams, foreboding imagery or one's stream of consciousness.
Was I confused as I was experiencing this bad boy? Grasping to piece it all together and get the full picture? Yup. Did I figure it all out afterwards with some time to dwell on it? Yup. Well, I think I did. All that to say, it felt swell to be challenged by a film again, just like the good old days of Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me
, the aforementionned Lost Highway and Mullholland Dr.
Visually, the picture echoed its themes and existential/spiritual/philosophical substance perfectly. We got a rich color motif (red, blue and some white), a bleak and oppressive mood, sublime lighting (loved the use of shadows), creative framing and slow yet engrossing camera movements that gave the whole a surreal quality (if you dig your slow push-ins and tracking shots, you'll be well served here). Lots of the key info here was communicated by way of images (and sounds to a lesser degree) as opposed to dialogue, and I personally relished in deciphering the message (s) that were gunned my way.
Character wise, we got a slew of miserable people on hand. Those hoping to see Ryan Gosling play the too cool for school character he tackled in Drive, will be taken aback. Yes, he looked slick shaded by shadows, hardly ever blinked, put the tense in intense and he brooded like he was going for the James Dean award, but at the end of the kill, the story embraced the character's weaknesses, his fears, his emotional baggage and his sexual repression etc. I thought he'd be a badass! He wasn't. That made for a very interesting spin. On her end Kristin Scott Thomas stole most of her scenes thanks to her crude yet clever dialogue and her bitch with the most attitude. To be fair, I think she had the most lines out of everybody in the film. But even she in all of her splendor couldn't top the mostly silent Chang as played by Vithaya Pansringarm. Talk about presense! His slow walk, his commanding stare, his mad skills at slicing peeps with his sword, coupled with the potent subtext that came with his mysterious character made him the most memorable element here. What a stand out show! Dude killed that Karaoke machine as well! Kudos sir, kudos!
Topple on top of all that quality; striking set designs, a trippy score by Cliff Martinez, a handful of visceral action scenes that hit where it counted, some funny moments (not sure if they were intentional or not, but yes I laughed) and acts of brutality that put my ex girlfriend's antics to shame, and you get a poetic, dark, hypnotizing and layered show. Any qualms? Some but minor. Refn had a tendency to set up a scene that had me by the balls and to then cut it too short. Let them breathe brah! I also would have dug more time spent on the quasi love story Gosling had with the hooker (ably played by hottie Rhatha Phongam), just so I could understand WHY she kept on sticking around. Overall though; ONLY GOD FORGIVES was a deep, weird and effective mood piece. One that played on a multitude of levels at the same time and to the beat of its own drums. I expect the masses to hate it or/and find it boring, but what matters to me is that I got so much out of it. It was my kind of movie! So ... you want to fight?
Yeah, this one put out some fairly mean spirited and graphic scenes. I won't list them here, I don't want to spoil them for yall.
Suprirsingly even though the story was set in a world where prostitution ruled, no T or A here. Odd... me no comprende!
ONLY GOD FORGIVES was a slow moving art film. A violent and depraved slow moving art film but one none the less. If you're not into that jive now and again, don't bother. After Drive, this was a return to full-on uncompromising form for Refn. Audio/visual driven, gorgeously shot, dealing with somber themes like sexual repression, vengeance, sex in relation to violence, and death. Shite, even hints of incest and the Oedipus complex got in there! I was also treated to an unpredictable nature, a fascinating subtext, an anti-hero that was beyond "anti", eye popping sets, an eerie score, well executed action scenes and unrepentant violence. Although all of the actors owned it, Vithaya Pansringarm WAS the movie for me as the see all, know all, slaughter all police captain. The lad possessed that screen like nobody's bitch! A performance to remember! Granted I wish Refn didn't cut a couple of scenes so short and the "love” angle would have benefited from more meat, but that's nathing in contrast to all the love the film gave me. The more I think about it, the better ONLY GOD FORGIVES keeps on getting. That is a sign of a novel and inspired creation... in my world anyways. I can't wait to own it and see it again! Off to buy the soundtrack!
The film was booed by the press at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. I always found it unprofessional for fucking press to boo a film. But hey, what do I know!
Luke Evans was originally cast as Julian but had to bow out due to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The film was mostly shot in chronological order.