Saturday, 20 July 2013

Only God Forgives, dir/wr. Nicolas Winding Refn, st. Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Those left cold or confounded by Winding Refn's critically acclaimed neon-noir Drive two years ago are unlikely to experience the warming of cockles upon viewing Only God Forgives, his latest foray into the darker recesses of the human psyche via more fluor-tubed excess, an unctuous Cliff Martinez score and of course, Ryan Gosling. That the film received boos and a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year gives you some idea of the film's polarising effect. Gosling, obviously feeling his character in his previous collaboration with Refn was something of a chatterbox, plays Julian Thompson - quite possibly "The Driver" in an alternate universe - an expatriate living in Bangkok who runs a drug smuggling op fronted by a boxing club. When his brother Billy (Tom Burke) murders a prostitute, so begins a bloody spiral of tit-for-tat killings involving Julian and Lt. Chang (Pansringarm), a kind of paradoxical ronin-y police chief with a penchant for karaoke. The dichotomy of Refn the consummate artist and Refn the pornographer is as maddening a conundrum as ever, and although there is indeed vast artistry in how Refn chooses to frame, compose and edit, you're also never far from the whiff of suspicion you're being had, or at the very least needled or provoked in some way. Yet for all the back-of-a-napkin plotting and unsubtle stylisms, Only God Forgives is quite compelling, aided by hypnotic performances, claustrophobic sets and locations, and a great undulating sound design. It may possibly be under the misapprehension it means a little more than it actually does, but neither can it be accused of being form over content. There's just too much going on that's curiously, frustratingly brilliant.