Only God Forgives
The latest movie by Nicolas Winding Refn is hardly the disaster that some critics have made it out to be. Far from it, actually. For starters, the cinematography by Larry Smith is amazing. And the set design is a knock out; the characters all seem to exist in a remarkable post rain storm Bangkok exterior and dark neon, glossy, color saturated tableaux interior, which all help to give the film the look of a live action, hothouse, graphic novel.
True, the story isn't much. A man kills a teenage prostitute, her father kills him, the police are involved in a cover-up and Ryan Gosling and mom [Kristin Scott Thomas] come seeking revenge. Amid all of this the themes of morality, judgement, loyalty and betrayal are all swirled together in the narrative much like the colorful neon noir look of the film. But, like many comic books, the whole story is at the service of the visuals and the style. Yes, the film is an exercise in style. Yet, at 90 minutes, it hardly overstays its welcome because every frame offers up something visually remarkable to behold.
I would say the expectations of Refn after the huge success of Drive - and a long string of other good movies - was such that it pretty much sunk this movie in the eyes if the critics even before it was shown.
But there is a lot here to savor. Other than the look of the film there is Kristin Scott Thomas giving a deliciously bitchy performance as Gosling mother; there's a dream-like, symbolic quality to the editing, which alternates between the reality of what we are seeing and the visions and dreams and flashbacks [or are they flash forwards?] that are in the head of the characters. There's also the dark, deadpan humor that is often accompanied with some sharp, vicious violence. And an engaging, ambient musical sound-scape score that keeps the movie creeping forward [some would say slowly].
I believe Refn and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were up to and what they wanted to achieve with the film. It can be argued that perhaps Refn needs a producer [or an editor] to rein him in. He certainly, too, could have used a co-writer - as was the case with his last three movies. When he writes alone he gets a bit indulgent.
So, yes, Only God Forgives is not the film of the year and it's also not the film that pushes the range of Refn's talent. But who cares? I would say this film is pure unfiltered Refn and if you like the way that sounds then dive on in.