I haven’t seen much of Nicolas Refn’s work. I still need to dedicate some time to watching Valhalla Rising, I saw Bronson, and I thought it was pretty good. What I saw was Drive, and that film was great. It had a cool retro 70s crime film feel to it with a nice 80s soundtrack. The film was cemented with a power actor trio of Albert Brooks reaching Ledger Joker or Anton Chigurh levels of intimidation, Ron Perlman being his normal cool self as a crime boss, and Bryan Cranston being the father figure to the protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling. The protagonist of the film was cool and appropriately mysterious, like Blondie. And the film, as all of Refn’s films are, looks spectacular.
So, I was excited to see his follow up film, Only God Forgives, which had Cliff Martinez, who did the Drive soundtrack, and Ryan Gosling returning. I was excited, the trailers to this film made it look great, especially the Red Band version.
This movie is not great. It’s a disappointment. It’s not fun to sit through, at all. Refn’s gift of making the movie look good is present, and Cliff Martinez gives a good soundtrack. Kristen Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm give good performances, especially Pansringarm. Those are the good parts of the film.
The bad parts? Everything else. This film is one of the most poorly structured and edited films I’ve seen in a while. The plot was difficult for me to follow. Nothing is explained in this film. It’s all done with long visual shots that look pretty, but don’t say anything. Drive had Ryan Gosling being stoic and expressionless, and that was acceptable because other characters expressed emotions. In this film however, Gosling is even more expressionless, and no one else besides Kristen Scott Thomas shows any emotion whatsoever.
- Ryan Gosling’s entire range of emotions in this film is this.
The story is that a drug dealer named Julian is in Bangkok running a ring as a front. His brother gets killed and his mother comes back and encourages Julian to find the murderers. Also, there is a cop going around looking intimidating. Of course, that’s what the movie claims to be about, not that you’d be able to follow it.
The film doesn’t flow together at all. One scene Gosling is staring at a prostitute, and then the cop, Chang shows up, or does he? Wait no, it was a surreal vision. This film lacks what we call a narrative.
This film disappointed me a lot because the trailer shows cool bits of the film, like in the redband trailer above, there is a part where Ryan Gosling’s character grabs a guy and drags him down a hallway by the mouth. When you see that scene in the film, it has no lead up, no motivation, and he literally drags the guy for about 3 seconds before it cuts away. The scene was pointless, and only looked cool.
There is also some crappy pretentious symbols, but don’t ask me what they mean, cause I got no idea. Shots like hands becoming fists are obviously supposed to symbolize….something. Then there’s the fact that after the cop uses his sword to brutalize somebody, it cuts to him, or in one instance, some girl, performing very nice sounding karaoke. Connection? Maybe it’s an Eastern thing. Then there’s the incestuous overtones with Julian and his mother. And that’s not resolved either. Julian likes watching prostitutes do stuff, you can tell by the expression on his face. His relationship with one prostitute in the film doesn’t go anywhere either.
Also, the film is really brutal, but it all feels like there’s no purpose to it. Okay, so, Chang likes to cut people with a sword he always carries for some reason. He thinks he’s some sort of divine punisher, which if you watch the movie, you’ll see in this one scene where he tortures a guy.
This film is so egotistical for Refn, cause he’s probably the only person who gets it, and someone is going to use an interpretation of this film as an excuse to elevate themselves above others when in fact, there is nothing really here.
I can’t really say the film is terrible, because its well shot and soundtracked, but like… there is no narrative, and it presents itself as high art without anything intelligent to back it up. I don’t want to dissuade people from watching it though. Someone else might get something out of this. I didn’t.
Here’s your film, you can have it back, Refn.