Aka, “The Staring Game“.
Despite him apparently being a Muay Thai fight club operator, Julian (Ryan Gosling) operates mainly as a drug-pusher that finds himself in a bit of a pickle when his big brother acts like an ass, and gets killed for being one. The man that killed his older brother, Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), isn’t the type of person you want to mess with but don’t tell that to Julian, or his recently-visiting mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Since the death of her oldest son, she’s been a wreck and she wants revenge, at any cost or any way possible. That means Julian, and if not him, than anybody else she can find to do the dirty deed will do.
After Drive stormed the theaters and took mostly everybody by storm (with the exception of a few), many people were not only wondering who the hell this Nicolas Winding Refn guy was, but what he had up his sleeve next. Well, suffice to say, after about 2 years of planning, rumors, and divisive receptions at Cannes, here it is, Refn’s next flick that will most likely piss more people off than ever. And yes: That does mean you, artsy, fartsy Drive fans.
Refn’s style is anything but mainstream; rather than being all about giving us a comprehensive plot filled with intelligible characters, a cohesive plot-structure, and a reasoning for certain scenes placed in a rhythm that makes understandable sense, we get a flick that will probably have more and more people scratching their heads. Not just by the story-structure either, but mainly by how little Refn makes sense of this story. It does seem pretty conventional right from the start, and actually continues to do so, even at it’s craziest moments, but where most will be lost with this flick is that it finds itself in some weird territory. And I’m not just talking about weird territory in the sense that people say and do weird things, because that’s what the plot calls on for them to do in a way that connects to their sense of setting, but more in the sense of how David Lynch has been able to make a career off of so far. Yup, the dreaded “Lynch-word” had to have eventually come out, and that’s more than enough of a reason to scare the utter crap out of people from seeing this movie.
However, my not being a general fan of Lynch’s style and works over the years, I have to say that somebody who can capture a style like his, but add more cohesion to it is all fine and dandy with me, and that is exactly what Refn was able to do. There’s plenty of shots of long, dark hallways, people staring into mid-space, as if they want to say something but decide to shut their traps anyway, Asian men singing karaoke late at night, blood-flavored corn syrup splattered all over, and moments/scenes that feel and look like they are dreams, but because Refn has a style that is so melodic and tense, you are never quite sure. It really hit me though, and it got more involved and interested by the material, despite most of it seeming “overly-pretentious” and “artsy”, which are the key words anytime you’ll find from most critics to describe this movie. Can’t say I blame them for believing so, but I can’t help but also feel like I was compelled by what I saw and felt. You sort of just have to roll with what Refn gives and throws at you, and if you can’t, then you might be a lost cause for this movie. However though, I knew what I was getting myself into and I didn’t back down from a single bit of it, even if I do sense there is some problems along the way that even the most hardcore, Refn fan will have to admit to noticing.
First of all, the movie does suffer from an over-abundance of sure randomness that seems to be done for the sake of being so. I don’t know where the hell Refn was trying to go with this story and what he was trying to convey, but whatever it was, did not come out so well on film. Of course there’s a bunch of talk about “God”, “the devil”, “paying for your sins”, and all of that annoying, religious crap, but it never seems to go anywhere or make much sense. Drive never really had much of a reasoning for most of the shite that it pulled off in it’s story, but it didn’t need to. It was just a downright, straight-up crime flick, that maybe had a couple of poignant moments of human-interaction, but wasn’t about anything life-changing or altering to begin with. This movie is far, far different from that one and it makes you wonder just what Refn was trying to say underneath this material. “Material” that, mind you, will throw you for a couple of curve-balls at times by just how violent and gruesome it really gets.
Though the infamous, “head-stomping scene” in Drive will forever remain Refn’s bloodiest couple of minutes on the big screen, there are plenty of scenes here that battle it out with that one, and come pretty damn close to making us gag or possibly even yack-up the day’s breakfast. Or lunch, all depends on when you watch it really. Though I don’t want to give away too much of what sort of violence happens, and the hows, and the whys, and the wheres, I will say that there are a couple of scenes that will cause you to look away, and others that will actually surprise with what level of violence they actually escalate to. In fact, one scene that everybody’s been hyping-up for the longest time ever since that first trailer popped-up, is probably the most memorable part of the whole movie, but for the sole fact that it surprises you with where it goes. I’m going to leave it at that, but just know that Refn isn’t too keen on giving the audience what they want to see, and if he is keen on it, be sure to expect something twisted on it’s side with that view-point of his. Just a fair warning, that’s all.
Another fair warning that I can’t forget to mention and feel pleased about doing so is that most people will be disappointed with Ryan Gosling here as Julian, the drug-pusher/fight club owner. Many won’t be pissed with Gosling’s performance because it’s bad or anything, it’s actually the farthest thing from, it’s just that all of the wit, the energy, and the charm that he’s featured so much, and so well in the past, is pretty much absent here. That said, the guy’s still great playing that soft-spoken, brooding-type that doesn’t need to say much, or anything at all, just to get his point across. The guy’s got presence and it’s nice to see him shown that in a movie that challenges him as much as this one does, but it’s been like the 3rd or 4th role in-a-row of this type that we’ve seen him do. Time to mix it up just a little bit, Ry. Please don’t kick my ass though.
The one in this cast who actually gets more to work with, and probably more screen-time is a relatively unknown, Thai actor by the name of Vithaya Pansringarm. I have never, not for a single second of my life seen this guy in anything before, but what good I do hope comes from this movie is that that all changes and I see more of him everywhere and anywhere I can. Pansringarm’s physical-presence is what throws most people off here because he’s a small, middle-aged man that seems like he would be helping you get a spare tire on, rather than chopping your ass off in half, but looks can be quite deceiving, as Refn and Pansringarm both prove more times than one here with this character. Like Gosling, the man’s got presence, but uses it in a way that scares you to high heavens, even when he’s just showing up, staring at a person, and asking interrogating them in anyway that he can. And I do mean, “ANYWAY THAT HE CAN.”
Together, the two form a pretty worthwhile feud that isn’t all about proving who has the bigger dick, or who’s the better fighter, but more of who has the bigger heart and who cares more. That’s the type of rivalries I like to see in my movies, even if they are between a little, middle-aged Asian man, and a young, hunk-of-heaven known as Ryan Gosling. Never thought I’d see that coming, ever, but damn does Refn love to surprise us.
Last, but sure as hell not least in this cast is Kristin Scott Thomas as Julien’s mother, Crystal, the trashy, gangster-wife who seems like she came straight from a Jersey Shore audition, didn’t get the part, and decided to piss everybody off around her because of it. Scott Thomas has always been a marvelous actress, but she’s never really blown me away with anything as of late, but she totally took me by surprise here, not only by commanding the screen with every ounce of energy that she had, but also proving that she’s the biggest hard-ass of them all. There’s some weird shit going on with this character about her sometimes incestuous relationship with her two sons, but it doesn’t get past the fact that this woman is mean, ugly, and always ready for a good fight, even if it’s through words and not through the fist-a-cuffs. Even though many of have been crapping on this flick for being too stylish for it’s own good, many have been loving and praising Scott Thomas’ performance and with good reason: She keeps the energy of the movie going, even if Refn does lend a helping-hand, every once a few whiles.
Consensus: Only God Forgives is Nicolas Winding Refn at his most stylish and odd-ballish, but if you are able to take it all in as it is, not think too much about it’s material, and realize that it’s not going to be Drive in any way, then it might just work for you and your art-sensibilities.
7.5 / 10 = Rental!!