First off let me say I’m a big Nicolas Winding Refn fan. From his early work on the famed "Pusher" series to his in-your-face brutality with "Bronson," Refn has an eye for visual violence like no one else. I was disappointed in "Drive," mainly due to the fact that I felt the mainstream story wasn’t a good movie marriage with Refn’s strange cinematic style. Now comes "Only God Forgives," a second teaming of Refn and star Ryan Gosling and on the up side this film is 100% pure Refn through and through. But within the films’ off world of slow visual sequences and crashing musical crescendos there’s perhaps a little too much Refn oddness – even the abnormal has a limit.
Julian is an American living in Thailand who uses a local boxing club as a front for drug smuggling. His brother Billy is struggling with inner demons of his own and after a tryst with an underage prostitute finds himself deceased. Hearing the news, caustic mom Crystal heads to Thailand and gives her living son a piece of her mind – find those responsible and put them down.
The above sounds cohesive, but through the Lynch-like eyes of the wacky Refn everything here is utterly askew. Told through a series of strange dreams, heightened realities and stark visual images, Refn has never been more brilliant, unleashed and yet flawed all at the same time. By using all of the above he creates a world solely based on style proudly without substance and while it’s bold (especially when using the stark sounds of "sex, lies, and videotape" composer Cliff Martinez) it doesn’t completely work. With pre-mentioned David Lynch, there’s still a modicum of story and you always feel like there’s someone steering the ship no matter how strange. Refn’s rickety raft is sans captain, crew and even a paddle as it simply wades into rough territory with wild abandoned. (The lifeless karaoke scenes of the sword-wielding cop crooning hardly touch the quirk factor of Dean Stockwell singing into a lamp in "Blue Velvet!") And you can’t blame Gosling, as here he is simply another visual tool in Refn’s arsenal to attack the senses of the audience – the performance art prop minus any cohesive nature.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with stretching the boundaries of what cinema is and should be and frankly nobody is more fitting to take it on then Refn. But just having something to show doesn’t always equal genius and in "Only God Forgives" looks can sometimes be deceiving.
Title: "Only God Forgives"
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Company: RADiUS-TWC
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