Steve Pulaski's Review: Only God Forgives Jul 19, 2013 21:10:25 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jul 19, 2013 21:10:25 GMT -5
Only God Forgives (2013)
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Kristin Scott Thomas plays the foul-mouthed mother from hell in Only God Forgives.
I've had three separate debates with people over the last few months about Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. All three times it has been me trying to justify its social/cultural importance as a film and state explicitly why its message is true and needs to be heard. All three times, I felt as if I was talking into a megaphone to a crowd of deaf people. It seemed as if they already made up their minds as to what Spring Breakers was and felt no need to hear other viewpoints.
Well, now here's Nicholas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, and, this time around, I won't be having any verbose debates about the content of the picture and its significance/impact because, frankly, there doesn't seem to be much. This is an art-house film that will be considered "profound" and "deep" by those who likely haven't watched an art-house film before. I have a strong feeling that if that is the case, many will go back to this years from now after, hopefully, having watched more pictures of this kind, and when they revisit this one, they can see how lifeless and artificial most of the film is.
The film's plot is beyond basic. Set in the seamy whorehouses of Thailand, the central "character" is Julian (Ryan Gosling), who runs a boxing club down in the area. After his brother is killed for beating and, eventually, killing an underage prostitute, Julian's mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes down to Thailand immediately to try and convince her surviving son to avenge his sibling's death. But Julian is something of a pacifist, unmotivated to kill anybody associated to his brother's murder because he believes he got what he deserved. This upsets Julian's mother, whose foul-mouthed, Neanderthalic ways only become worse after that.
From there on out, the film is less a film and more an evocative montage of people staring at one another, sometimes saying a sentence or two, or engaging in senselessly violent acts, all of which are usually captured in deep neon hues. Almost everyone of these scenes are plastic in the sense that they seem so dedicated to trapping the viewer in a room void of connection. Refn doesn't make any attempt to create or illustrate character, which would be fine if he would give us a setup mildly interesting (or illustrated a welcoming impressionistic style). But instead, he gives us a setup that doesn't even seem to be taken seriously by the characters and actors themselves.
It's hard to talk about performances when the actors seem to have very little to work it, too. Ryan Gosling is a strong leading man and, coming off of The Place Beyond the Pines, where he played a troubled but focused father with a woman who can't stand him, I was sort of expecting he'd move past his recent foray into playing a brooding archetype. Gosling simply broods in this film and nothing more, saying few words and scarcely stringing a sentence together. At this point, Gosling is beginning to venture into the area of self-parody, which is the last place a spry, young talent would want to find himself. More, it's not necessarily the fact that Kristin Scott Thomas gives a bad performance, she just gives one that feels misplaced and too blunt for a film clearly trying to maintain a minimalist charisma about its ways.
Two things are slightly mesmerizing about Only God Forgives - that is - until redundancy breeds contempt. The first is the cinematography by Larry Smith, which sometimes entirely consumes the screen in an attempt to seemingly distract the audience to show the film isn't as empty as it really is. The second is the luscious, ambient score by Cliff Martinez, which always seems to kick in at the right place and right time. The combined efforts of both a lovely atmosphere and a memorable score save Only God Forgives from unforeseeable drudgery, and yet, the entire thing still feels like a gigantic missed opportunity.
Much as been made about the violence of the picture, some saying it emphasizes some sort of metaphorical aspect of the picture and others saying it's simply used as shock value. I side on those who claim it's shock value; in a way, everything in Only God Forgives is used as a piece of trite shock value. From the foul-mouthed mother who does everything from call out a prostitute to recount an incestuous past, to romanticizing and fetishizing its violence into mindless bloodiness. I look at films like Fight Club and am astonished at how they fit in commentary on manhood and textbook masculinity in a picture ostensibly devoted to grown men beating the hell out of each other. I look at films like Only God Forgives and am astonished they could even stand from the ground up on the thin material they're crafted on.
Writer/director Nicholas Winding Refn finally received some mainstream attention and credibility when his film Drive took people by surprise in 2011. People regarded it as a quiet, but ambitious masterpiece with Gosling going full-force as the quiet lead in the picture. Now, Refn follows up with one of the most tiring films in sometime, one that feels so forced and unable to produce anything of significance that we, as the viewers, could potentially extract. I see Only God Forgives becoming the go-to film for young cinephiles, anxious to deviate from the cinematic conventions into something new and bold. They will likely find it exhilarating and remarkable because they'll feel it's saying something they can't pinpoint, which is very rare in Hollywood films. As someone who has made a priority out of seeking out lesser-known films over the years, I find Only God Forgives nearly impossible to believe on an impressionistic, independent frontier, and inconceivably brooding (like its character) when trying to exist on Hollywood ground. This could've possibly been repaired if either the actors or the writers had something to say.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm. Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn.