Tag Archives: Nicholas Winding Refn

“Only God Forgives” (2013) – Review


Writer/Director: Nicholas Winding Refn

Stars: Ryan Gosling (Julian), Kristin Scott Thomas (Crystal), Vithaya Pansringarm (Chang) and Tom Burke (Billy)

Bangkok. Night. Kickboxing Match. As one match ends Julian (Ryan Gosling) leans and whispers to the fighter of the next match. He glances across the crowd to the other Americans across the way and nods. One of the two acknowledges Julian and passes cash to one of the Thai and it gets passed to the right person. After the match behind a masonry decorative screen the fighter, two Americans, and Julian gather. Billy (Tom Burke), Julian’s brother, hands the boxer cash before he is excused.

That same night Billy enters a brothel and asks for a fourteen year old girl. The manager has none. Billy then asks if the manager has a daughter and if he is willing to sell her for the night. Billy and the manager get into an altercation. Later Billy hires a prostitute on the street and takes her up to the available apartment in her working building.

Siren. Flashing Lights. Police Cars. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) a chief detective arrives to the same street and building where Billy is at; other uniformed police officers are present. They take him up to the apartment where they show Chang the bloodied and mutilated body of the prostitute, and Billy sitting on the bed staring out the window covered in blood.

Chang brings the father of the murdered prostitute to the crime scene and allows him time alone with Billy to do what needs to be done.

Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), Julian’s and Billy’s mother, arrives at a five-star hotel in Bangkok. She asks Julian if Billy’s murderer has been taken care of? He says, “it’s complicated.”

Like Drive, the previous Refn/Gosling collaboration, before it, Only God Forgives aims to tell a compelling story with minimal dialogue through the use of acting, music, and visuals. Unlike Drive it does not succeed.

Refn’s goal seemed to be to determine how much dialogue do you really need to tell a story and still have the audience follow it. The dialogue in the film probably equates to thirty pages in the script, with the Kristin Scott Thomas character realistically having half of it–most of that half delivered during one memorable dinner scene between Crystal, Julian, and the hooker he hired to join him. Though you eventually figure out what is going on, the journey is made difficult because we are privy to Julian’s dreams and yearnings, so in certain scenes you are not entirely sure who is actually there and where they actually are in relation to Julian.

Further failings in comparison to Drive is that there is no one to relate to or route for. The Driver was an anti-hero, but Julian is no such thing. The music, so excellent in Drive, is painfully absent for most of the film, with only a few moments where it was allowed to shine.

The actors did what they could with what they were given. Gosling holds your attention on-screen and conveys Julian’s damaged spirit through his eyes, but there is something missing from the character. Pansringarm as Chang is not given anything to work with. He maintains the same demeanor and physicality throughout. The only actor allowed to shine is Thomas. She is unrecognizable as Crystal and delivers a bitch-on-heels performance for the ages.

The only completely favorable comparison to Drivethat can be made is in the visual look of the film. Larry Smith, the cinematographer, created visually stunning shots with great use of color, lighting, and staging. The film looks gorgeous.

But visuals alone and one stand-out performance do not make a great film. Only God Forgives feels longer than its ninety minutes and over stays its welcome.

Grade = C-


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“Drive” – Review

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Director:  Nicholas Winding Refn

Writer:  Hossein Amini

Stars:  Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman & Albert Brooks

The best movie of the year so far.  The movie follows The Driver aka The Kid (Ryan Gosling) as he finds something resembling a soul when he develops an emotional attachment to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos).  You learn that his regular job is a mechanic at Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) shop for cars used in Hollywood films; he is also a sometimes stunt driver and a driver of getaway cars in heists.  Irene is a mother barely getting by waiting for her husband, Standard Gabriel, to get out of jail.  The Driver and Irene develop an emotionally charged platonic relationship, and her son starts looking up to him as a role model.  Then everything changes when Standard is released.  He tries to lead the straight life but is brought back into a life of crime because of debts he owes from his time in jail.  In order to get Benicio and Irene out of danger, the Driver agrees to help Standard; then all hell breaks loose.

The look of the movie is great, reminiscent of Miami Vice the movie.  The sound of the film is more like Miami Vice the TV show, but updated to a current audience.  The overall feel is of a gritty 70s film.  I can’t say the screenplay is the best, but the director (Nicholas Winding Refn) does a great job moving the story forward.  The other incredible thing he does is shocking the audience with violence.  There are not many violent scenes in this film, but when they are there you feel them and are repulsed.    Audience members in my screening audibly gasped.

The acting is superb, starting with Ryan Gosling.  This film lives and dies by his performance, and he is more than capable.  He has very little dialogue but communicates through his eyes and body language.  The only flaw with the performance was physical–personally I would have prefered someone with a more weathered face; but that is trivial.  Albert Brooks is a revelation.  He basically plays a psychotic version of a typical Albert Brooks performance.  As for the other actors and their characters, they are also good.

After the initial action set piece, the movie has a slow burn with a great payoff.  You get drawn into The Driver’s world and feel the tension as time goes on.  This is a film that should be seen on the big screen.

Grade:  A-

PS  During the first few scenes after the initial heist, I couldn’t help thinking of Brooke Shield’s early 80s Calvin Klein jean ads, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvin’s?  Nothing”  Damn, if it didn’t look like Ryan Gosling’s jeans were painted on.