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ONLY GOD FORGIVES – Review
July 31, 2013
Nicolas Winding Refn best known for Bronson (2008) and Drive (2011) has earned the reputation of being a director that seeks more from his cinemagoers, for he challenges the makeup of the linear narrative film structure, deconstructs the equilibrium-restored endings of Hollywood and gives new meaning to art-house cinema. The best known auteurs like Tarantino, Almodovar and Kiarostami all live up to a certain expectation and Refn’s works have come to carve him the status of an auteur. His latest stylistic art-house crime thriller Only God Forgives starring Hollywood’s hottest chocolate boy Ryan Gosling bares all the hallmarks of a great auteur.
The film, set in Bangkok’s underworld, looks at an alienated and emotionally unstable Julian (Ryan Gosling), who hides a drug-smuggling business behind the boxing club he runs with his brother Billy (Tom Burke), an equally psychologically broken man who is lost in a drift of ecstasy. Billy’s sexual frustrations lead him to a road of self-destruction through prostitution which ultimately sees his downfall. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), a dictatorial, obscene mother flies in from the United States to avenge Billy and clean up the mess because her son Julian cannot or will not. It’s not as easy as Crystal hoped as she finds herself up against a force that even she is unable to reckon with, a mysterious police officer (Vithaya Pansringarm) who carries not a gun, but a samurai sword that he seeks vengeance with.
Only God Forgives is a rich tapestry of cinematic elegance almost reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Refn’s use of slow camera movements to heighten the sombreness of the characters and allow for one to reflect on the brutality of the extreme bloody violence that abruptly elevates regular scenes works magnificently. The musical score is well thought-out and does not over empower scenes; however it does fail to create suspense and tension that Refn excelled in with his last film Drive, disappointing for it really could have made a huge impact on the delivery of some important scenes. Gosling throughout is well groomed and his outfits are well tailored for his body type, he is presented as a charming but yet mysteriously allusive and when battered and bloodied he still remains looking remarkably good. Kristin Scott Thomas looks elegant and seductive, her choice of costumes go beyond her cold persona and give her a more authoritarian presence. Thomas’s character is audacious but charming and a pleasant departure away from what we have seen from her previously.
There’s no argument. This is a film for the cinephile, for only they will appreciate Refn’s meticulous care in constructing the underworld of Bangkok without forcing you to follow a certain axis. Refn affords his audience the freedom to create personal interpretations and meanings of his work which some may find challenging and bewildering. He’s a director that champions the classic archetype of screenwriting for he opts for minimal dialogue and practices the notion of showing, not telling the story which gives his work depth, and he very much uses this unique cinematic style throughout this film. Only God Forgives is visually stunning as is the subject matter; however it’s perhaps not for those who are queasy for like a Tarnation film there is a lot of violence and blood, an enjoyable experience nevertheless one worth a second viewing.
Only God Forgives hits UK theaters this Friday, August 2nd.