Nicloas Winding Refn sure is an interesting director, and one I very much admire. He really does like to teeter on the knife edge between profundity and pretentiousness, though. Valhalla Rising, in spite of the never-knowingly-overchiselled Mads Mikkelsen, I found a frustrating mixture of fascinating and wilfully obscure to the point of utter tedium. But crazy and colourful Bronson I liked a lot, and Drive I liked even more. Ryan Gosling’s moody silences and lingering glances seemed full of depth in that film, the electro-score and neon darkness totally fitting, the supporting characters vivid and surprising, the action explosive and shocking.
You’ve got to admire that after being within a hair of commercial Hollywood glory with Drive, Refn has made a staunchly art house and uncommercial film with this surreal gangster revenge piece in moody, evil Bangkok. Sadly, that was pretty much all I did admire about it. In a way Only God Forgives is very much like Drive, but with the pretentiousiser dialled all the way up to BORING. Lots of moody neon and swelling electro again, but now the script is so pared back as to be virtually non-existent. Gosling’s silences are longer than ever, but seem to betoken emptiness rather than depth, and oddly juxtaposed with a strangely blaring and brassy performance from Kristin Scott Thomas as his mother. The violence is very ultra. Much splatter! Such super schlock! But at the moments that were meant to be most shocking I actually just felt like laughing. The film is short, but bloody hell it doesn’t feel short. Blatant symbolism abounds, but to what end I’m really not sure. Ryan Gosling sits in a bar, staring at his hands. The Angel of Death sings bad Karaoke under red paper lanterns. Ryan Gosling stands in a foyer, staring at his hands. Someone gets their arm chopped off with a gout of splurge. The camera tracks, tracks, tracks endlessly back down a David Lynch style moody corridor for the seventh time. Back, and back, and back it tracks, like they accidentally left the brake off, and you just can’t believe the editor is going to let that shot of Ryan Gosling staring at his hands go on any longer.
Then it does.
Maybe it all went over my head. Maybe I’m getting old.
Sometimes I just like it when the characters speak, you know?