Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

Arthouse, Crime, Movie Review

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Only God Forgives is the follow-up to Danish director Nicolas Winding’s 2011 critically acclaimed, Drive – a cultural phenomenon that made you want to buy a leather jacket and drive around at night listening to synthwave music.  A stylish retro thriller with minor arthouse furnishings, Drive was a commercial success and mainstream breakthrough for Refn; now a director with the world at his feet, his next movie was highly anticipated by cinephiles and causal moviegoers alike; when it was announced he’d be teaming up with Ryan Gosling again excitement was in the air, with many hoping for Drive’s unofficial sequel.  Instead, Refn opted to release a bloody arthouse picture as a tribute to Chilean surrealist master, Alejandro Jodorowsky.  It was an artistic statement which divided audiences like black and white; at its Cannes premier it received both a standing ovation and booed hysteria from the polarized audience.  Needless to say it’s a very ”love or hate”, if Drive was the cocaine, Only God Forgives is the acid – it might not be a good trip for some, but for others it might just take them on a journey of the conscience.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a drug smuggler who runs a Thai boxing club as a front for his criminal activities on behalf of his criminal family; after his brother murders a prostitute, which results in ruthless cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).  Given that his brother was murdered for raping and killing an innocent woman, Julian has no desire to take it any further.  However, his domineering mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) demands retribution and her actions send Chan, also known as the Angel of Death, on a bloody mission of justice.

Only God Forbids is a strange movie; labelled pretentious and self-indulgent by its critics, they do have a point as it favours style over substance, but that doesn’t mean it contains none of the latter.  It’s a film that’s waiting to be dissected and interpreted in different ways.  The line between reality and symbolism is a blur; characters are merely caricatures in a hallucinogenic exploration of existentialism.  Just like Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970), it’s a Western that abandons a traditional narrative to explore themes that are difficult to decipher right away; at this moment in time I’m still not sure what to make of it all quite yet: all I know is I want to study it more.  There’s nothing wrong with not being able to understand what the hell is going on, I sure didn’t.  But it’s a thought provoking piece of art that makes me want to decipher its meanings.

The score by Cliff Martinez is the films dark beating heart; ominous synth drones draw us into Bangkok’s hellish underbelly and eerie Eastern instruments give us a feeling that there’s much spirituality at work; perhaps even the supernatural.  In a film where dialogue is sparse, the score is relied on heavily for mood and emotion; it’s a triumphant soundtrack to any journey into the abyss – and it makes for great background listening on a dark, rainy day.

Only God Forgives is a flawed movie, but anything that’s so personal to its creator is always going to boast some self-indulgence; that being said, it’s a flawed masterpiece.  Any movie that divides people so passionately is worth seeing if you ask me.  10/10

Written & Directed By:

Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring:

Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Genre:

Crime, Arthouse

Running Time:

90 mins

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Movie Review: Lost River (2014)

drama, fantasy, Movie Review

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Ryan Gosling has forged quite the career from marching to the beat of his own drum; his acting roles are picked based on what interests him as opposed to coasting on his looks and charms all the way to the bank, and now, with his first directorial feature, he’s created a bamboozling piece of arthouse cinema in the vein of his mentor Nicolas Refn, and idols like David Lynch, Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe.  Film buffs are sure to have a ball playing spot the influence; Gosling proudly wears Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive on his sleeve, through the lens of Only God Forgives.  Like his acting roles, this isn’t concerned about pleasing the mainstream; in fact, judging by its Cannes reaction and Rotten Tomatoes score it isn’t pleasing anybody.  Critics are writing it off as a collage of influences on a canvas with no originality of its own; and while it is a collage of influences, to write it off as nothing more is lazy journalism.  Whilst displaying images reminiscent of its idols, it contains enough of its own symbolism and messages to warrant some respect in regards to its originality.

Gosling tackles issues like small town life, poverty, bullying, family, coming of age, and the environment in his first outing; Christina Hendricks plays the mother who goes to desperate lengths to support her family, leading her into a dark underworld overseen by Ben Mendelsohn’s Dave, a sleazy Luciferian-like scumbag with a fondness for karaoke.  Saoirse Ronan plays Rat, the young love interest of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who spend their time ducking bullies led by the appropriately named Bully, played by Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, in  career best performance thus far.  Their town is decaying as a result of the economic crisis, and the setting makes for a desolate urban fairytale.

Water plays an important part in Lost River; in a town where water is hard to come by, all the characters still seem to be drowning in one way or another.  Social commentary is playfully used to suggest that industrial and commercial growth has replaced reservoirs to the point nobody knows what they are any more, despite being necessary in order to survive.

Lost River does come off as a love letter to avant-garde cinema Gosling is inspired by, but to dismiss it as only that is unfair; although viewed through the lens of Refn, with the imagery of Lynch, Mallick, Noe and Argento splashed across the screen throughout, this urban fairytale has strong characters and enough moral, societal and self-empowering messages to stand on its own 2 legs.  Overall, it’s a visually striking treat that could suck you in based on that alone, but Gosling is a director with a voice who shows great promise, even if he does need a little confidence to speak louder without his influences whispering in his ear.  7/10

Written & Directed By:

Ryan Gosling

Starring:

Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith

Genre:

Fantasy, Drama

Running Time:

95 mins