Only God Forgives (Denmark/France, 2013)

MV5BMzE5NzcxMTk5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjE2MDg2OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn. The first post for this blog was supposed to be Drive, but instead, I waited another 6 months or so before mustering up the courage. When I saw Drive, it was my first time seeing Nicolas Winding Refn do anything, and it was the first time seeing Ryan Gosling do something as a grown-up (to Canadians, he’ll forever be the squeaky-voiced dork from the after-school teen soap comedy Breaker High [a show about a high school on a travelling cruise ship, no joke]). I’ll try to be graceful enough to let go of what I missed and not make this a post about Drive, or about all of the Nicolas Winding Refn stuff I saw after I saw Drive (the short version is that the Pusher trilogy was amazing and everyone should see it, Valhalla Rising was awesome but most people probably won’t like it, and Bronson was fucking awesome but again, probably too weird for most people). But I feel like it’s important to ground my viewing of this movie, because I only sought it out because I realized that Winding Refn, that great Dane, is one of the only living filmmakers I’ve spent any time following and deliberately seeking out what he does. He has such a bizarre approach, his subject matter changes almost from film to film, to the point that even the narrative tone, the authorial voice, sort of seems to shift from film to film. I won’t go too deep into that thought right here, but this film is an interesting example. This got some bad reviews, and it’s not hard to see why: I think the studio marketed it as Drive 2, and that’s what I was expecting, and this movie is definitely not that at all. This is not a dissimilar shift from his Pusher trilogy, which was very gritty, very smart, yet accessible because it’s a genre piece, and which got a lot of hype and critical praise, and following it with Valhalla Rising, an extremely slow, abstract, piece that really alienated a lot of viewers (and kind of put me to sleep as well—and I thought it was really cool!). The discrepancy here is even more dramatic, the jump from Drive to this, to this: his most popular film to date, his big-screen, mainstream Hollywood debut, followed immediately by an extremely slow-paced, dreamlike, allegorical non-genre or quasi-genre picture—an art film with very little dialogue (most of which is in Thai), which kind of, sort of, bears a passing resemblance to a martial arts film or gangster film at a few moments. Looking at that summary, even on paper, it’s a fucking miracle that this film was ever made, and it’s not a surprise that it had to be funded like his other films, as a European art film. (Another argument for advertising a film honestly, not trying to pass off an art film as a brain-dead action thriller—you’ll get more people there who actually want to see an art film not a brain-dead action thriller—everyone wins!) And, listening to the director commentary track a bit, I have to admit that I was completely unaware of any allegorical, dream-logic aspect to any of the plot, that this Thai gangster is a figure of impersonal justice, good and evil alike, and that he’s supposed to bear a resemblance to the nameless driver in Drive, or the nameless One-Eye in Valhalla Rising. Now that I know that, I’d like to re-watch it, because it was a very good-looking, typically gorgeous and sensual visual feast, complete with the signature Winding Refn monochrome lighting, an absolutely amazing small performance from Kristin Scott Thomas (and from a host of supporting players I’m too lazy to look up right now). Gosling isn’t the best, but he’s pretty good in this, as good as he ever is. I’m glad I saw this, and I’m definitely hooked to see the rest of what my man NWR has to offer.

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2 responses to “Only God Forgives (Denmark/France, 2013)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Re-View: Drive (USA, 2011) | Offhand Reviews·

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