Monday, November 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Only God Forgives (2013) ***½

R, 90 min.
Director/Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon

Nicolas Winding Refn’s second outing with star Ryan Gosling after their sleeper cult critical hit “Drive” is probably not what audiences expected, but it’s much richer than it’s been given credit. The title “Only God Forgives” suggests the relentlessness of the material here. Of course the implication is that God will forgive someone here, but he would be at a loss to find someone worthy of forgiveness.

The plot might suggest a more typical thriller, at least in the eyes of American audiences. It follows an Ex-patriot drug kingpin based in Bangkok, who has his own fight club. His brother is brutally murdered at the behest of a local police detective. Their mother flies in from the U.S. to oversee the family’s revenge, but this is no average detective with which they are dealing. What’s more, the brother deserved what he got.

I’m sure audiences and even critics went into this movie expecting to see a somewhat traditional crime thriller. While “Drive” certainly wasn’t traditional, it was very American in it values and developments. “Only God Forgives” is not at all. Much of what happens appears to be dream sequenced or some sort of premonition on the hero’s part. Much is left unexplained. It is more of a visual experience than the plot driven films our culture heralds. It’s visceral, but not in terms of kinetic action, more in terms of pure and disturbing emotion. It plays more like a Thai film than an American one, and coming from Danish-born Refn, that’s really to be expected. He’s made movies in Denmark, Britain and America before this one and each has a setting specific feel to it. Each is also include many some of the same themes and visual styles as those explored by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, to whom both “Drive” and this film are dedicated.

“Only God Forgives” is not an entry point to the films of Refn. It is highly stylized and unusual, but it has great rewards for those who have graduated to this level of filmmaking. It doesn’t bother to translate the Thai dialogue into subtitles, because the dialogue isn’t as important as the images and themes of the film. The themes are difficult to decipher, but the soundtrack and presentation are what pull you into a film like this, and if you can marinate in it in the same way its characters do, there is some form of enlightenment to be found.

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