Only God Forgives

ImageWith a title like Only God Forgives, it is expected that the characters will show very little compassion, but ultimately the same is likely true for the audience who watches it.

A follow up to his phenomenal 2011 film Drive, director Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest film Only God Forgives again stars Ryan Gosling, this time as an underground boxing ring owner in Bangkok.  Like his character from Drive, his character here, Julian, is a man of few words, very few, like 15 maybe.  But that doesn’t stop him from smuggling drugs with his brother Billy (Tom Burke) and basically validating the frequently disturbing cinematic reputation that Bangkok has acquired.  When Billy is murdered for raping and murdering a sixteen-year-old, Julian and his partners find themselves compelled to hunt down his brother’s killer.  Vengeance reigns as Julian and company find themselves facing off against Chang (Vithaya  Pansringarm), a sword-wielding cop on a vendetta of his own.

Winding Refn has created a small and weird film.  Essentially what we have here is a cold-hearted revenge film where one murder begets one more.  What Winding Refn attempts to inject is a sense of mankind’s inherent evil in a spiritual battle where even God is pissed off.  This is most apparent in his development of a hand/arm motif.  By associating man’s arms/hands with the tools of vengeance, he does manage to create some provocative thematic quality.  However, the film is mostly unsuccessful and feels like a perverse and twisted student film and not much more.

Not a lot happens in Only God Forgives as several scenes are composed of people just moving around, albeit moving around slowly and deliberately.  Many scenes are composed of one-shots (one character in the frame) that last 30 seconds or more!  This results in manufacturing the slowest 89 minute film in recent memory.  A slight boost in pacing comes with the introduction of Julian’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scot Thomas), who gives Joan Crawford a run for her money as a controlling matriarch.

Nonetheless, there is not much good to be said for the film.  Gosling is practically emotionless, giving the blandest performance of his career, although clearly steered by Winding Refn.

Winding Refn’s directorial choices are certainly strange from time to time.  With virtually no exposition, his film complicates matters by introducing confusing segments of “dream-like” scenarios (most of which include red dragon wallpaper) that may or may not be real.  These segments feel forced and unnecessarily ambiguous with no rational purpose.  Furthermore, a major talking point for this film is its use of violence.  Only God Forgives appears to be an instrument for Winding Refn to release his own personal anger against spirituality, against God, against mothers – it’s an angry film.  Much of this anger manifests as violence and while occasionally off screen, two rather brutal scenes do not hold back: one involving Chang, the other involving Julian and his mother.  These scenes drip of anger but offer little redeeming quality (See No Country for Old Men for a film that accomplishes the task of personifying wrath).

While Winding Refn is a talented screenwriter and director, Only God Forgives is a mostly failed attempt at expounding on the undertakings of an angry God.  Instead of making a film that analyzes and examines anger, he has made one that simply exudes his own. D+

Only God Forgives is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 29 minutes.  Early reports of the film suggested it was astonishingly violent, yet while violent, it is more angry and pushes no boundaries set by multitudes of other gritty R rated vengeance films. 

The Weekly DISCussion

Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, a family member and I inevitably started discussing movies. After a thought-provoking and inspiring conversation about the alleged merits of the film Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, it occurred to both of us that The People’s Critic has vastly overlooked an opportunity to extend movie commentary to the comforts of home. Therefore, a new weekly feature has been born: The Weekly DISCussion. The Weekly DISCussion will suggest a Must See DVD of the week along with a Netflix Must Stream of the Week.

Must See DVD of the Week: FargoImage

As the holiday shopping season kicks off, remarkable deals start rolling out for all kinds of movies. One of these deals that cannot be passed up is the Coen Brothers 4 disc box set, which includes Fargo, Millers Crossing, Blood Simple, and Raising Arizona. Although all four of these are worthy of the Must See DVD of the Week, I have settled on Fargo. Fargo is a masterpiece of simplicity. Joel and Ethan Coen put a microscope on Brainerd, Minnesota, a simple town, with simple people who are disrupted by the ingeniously idiotic decisions of one car salesman. The story is good, but its the “authentic” tone of the dialogue that really puts a unique stamp on Fargo and the experience of watching it. It’s good, you betcha!

Netflix Must Stream of the Week: Drive Image

Drive is a movie that I am still astounded has not caught on in a big way. Drive follows a stunt driver played by Ryan Gosling as he makes movies by day and hires himself out as a getaway driver by night. Gosling is calm, but cold. His deliberate detachment makes him an enigma, but it is a necessary evil of his profession. Director, Nicholas Winding Refn allows the story to burn slowly but punctuates it with vivid, strong action and violence that keeps the audience on edge. The film resembles the gritty 80s films of directors like Michael Mann or Brian DePalma. Additionally, the score is reminiscent of those 80s films as well and is excellent.

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