Lots to get through this week, including the Robert De Niro/Zac Efron comedy Dirty Grandpa, Oscar-nominated financial comedy The Big Short, Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton in Our Brand Is Crisis, Feng Xiaogang in mainland gangster drama Mr. Six and Japanese musical shenanigans in La La La At Rock Bottom.
It seems to have taken me a very long time to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest effort, and researching a lengthy interview I had with the man, I was forced to spoil much of the story for myself in order to discuss it in detail. Fortunately, narrative is low on the list of priorities for all concerned, as Only God Forgives proves to be an almost operatic exercise in style, design and aesthetics (if they are in fact different things), with what little plot there is taking a back seat to a sequence of beautifully lensed, languidly paced sequences in which a rogues gallery of ferocious human beings square off against each other in near total silence. With minimal dialogue and brilliant use of colour and music, Only God Forgives seems to exist in an entirely different artistic space to most conventional cinema – even that of director Refn – yet nonetheless proves a visceral, hypnotic and powerful experience.
Ryan Gosling is reunited with director Nicolas Winding Refn in this terse, bloodthristy and beautifully crafted action thriller. Set in Bangkok, Refn holds nothing back in a gripping tale of revenge and retribution.
You can read Fernando’s full review here.
In his latest outing as the loneliest dude in the world, Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an American expat living deep in the seedy underworld of Bangkok. Early on, Julian’s older brother Billy (Tom Burke) commits a horrendous crime which precipitates a bloody chain of revenge and retribution. Julian also finds himself having to manage relationships with two complex women; Crystal, his emotionally estranged mother, played in fabulously trashy bleached blond locks by Kristin Scott Thomas and Mai, a picture of dignified resignation, played by Thai pop singer Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, with whom Julian has a less than straightforward sexual relationship.
But, the real fulcrum of the film is senior police office Chang, a picture of balance of poise and menace from Vithaya Pansringarm. Chang is the arbiter of cruel and swift justice in the city’s underground and is held in reverence by the local police. Chang increasingly becomes both a threat to Julian and something of a metaphysical obsession.
Only God Forgives reunites Gosling with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, although this is a very different experience to their last outing, Drive (2011). This time, Refn is a much more auteur-ish mood, with cinematic references to Yasujirō Ozu, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kurbrick, Gaspar Noe, Park Chan-wook and especially David Lynch. This is stylised and stylish film-making, with captivating cinematography (Larry Smith) and a pulsing electronic score (Cliff Martinez).
Having lived as an expat in Asia for over ten years now may well have influenced the way I saw Only God Forgives. The unromantic yet visually beautiful portrayal of Bangkok’s underworld, mixed with the reflexive arrogance of the Western criminals there to exploit what they see as a lesser culture and the bitter, violent resentment of the locals at the social cost of it all felt very real, familiar and well drawn.
Only God Forgives will not appeal to all film goers. It is relentlessly bloody and violent. The characters are not all that well drawn and very little of the action is explained. But, this is a profoundly well made film and a true cinematic experience; a dark fairy-tale with some challenging moral and psychological questions for the adventurous cineast and almost certainly destined to be a cult-hit.
It has taken a long time for Derek Cianfrance’s crime drama to make it to Hong Kong (in fact it doesn’t even open officially here for another month) but it has ridden a wave of mostly good buzz. The Blue Valentine director re-teams with star Ryan Gosling, who here plays Luke, a stunt driver in a travelling circus who opts to stick around on discovering that a fling with Eva Mandes’ waitress the previous year has produced a son. Despite the fact she now has a new man in her life, Luke looks to provide for the baby, but with no real prospects, soon finds himself and his motorbike working as a getaway driver for Ben Mendelsohn’s bank robber. Bradley Cooper puts in a fine turn as a young idealistic police officer who is currently struggling to come to terms with the fact that corruption is endemic throughout his department, most notably his senior officer, played by Ray Liotta.
Cianfrance approaches the story, which spans fifteen years and two generations, as if he is regaling a grand crime epic in the mold of Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, but the story is ultimately too conventional to really deserve the grandeur with which it is presented. That said the cast is excellent, with Gosling and Cooper both continuing to prove themselves as bona fide leaders of their generation, while Liotta and Mendelsohn offer effortless, yet impressive support.
The biggest problem with the film, however, is in its final act, which rests heavily on the shoulders of the adequate Dane DeHaan and the clearly inadequate Emory Cohen, resulting in a film that peters out rather than builds to a resonant climax. Still, the impressive first two thirds should prove strong enough to carry audiences through to the film’s close.