I’ll put my cards on the table straight away. I loved Drive. I loved the presentation, the cinematography, the performances, the stylistic lack of dialogue sharply followed by bone crushing violence and other such assorted things that people have been waxing lyrical about since its release. It was a masterpiece, plain and simple and certainly ranks as one of my favourite films of all time (Possibly not in my top 5, but definitely up there) It was a lovely little reminder to us all than films about a stuntman-cum-getaway driver don’t need to pander to the popcorn chomping masses in order to show a fantastic story on screen.
And so we get to Only God Forgives, the latest collaboration between Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling. It tells the story of the murder of a Bangkok based American gangsters brother and the subsequent attempt by their mother to gain retribution on the killer.
Much like Drive, there’s a distinct lack of dialogue and lots of emphasis on silence, emphasis on characters using more than their wordsmith skills to convey a mood and a rather over top use of the soundtrack. No tub-thumping 80’s synth though I’m afraid. This is about where the similarities end though. While Drive managed to be stylistic and entertaining in equal measures, Only God Forgives only manages to badly attempt to showcase its style.
It’s an incredibly polarizing film, people either love it or hate it and sadly I’m in the latter group. The vast majority of the film seems to be either artsy shots of people singing or artsy shots of Ryan Gosling looking off into space, probably wondering why he signed on for the film. It’s narrative is unclear, almost bordering on non-existent at times. There’s a very very basic plot but that’s about it. There’s lots of staring into the distance, lots of staring at hands and lots of cut scenes to something else completely unrelated. Nothing outside of the obvious is ever explained and it’s all left to the viewers interpretation. Very artsy. It’s all rather… Strange.
Just to be clear so people don’t think that I’m the sort of film fan who will only watch films about shit getting blown up, I love it when directors don’t take the easy option when it comes to film-making and try to think outside the box and offer the viewer something different to your usual Roland Emmerich / Michael Bay style of “Shiny things go bang” film-making. But in all honesty, this attempt at doing something stylish and different is utter torture to watch, and my attention span and patience had long worn out way before the finale. Which true to form was again attempting to be artsy and stylish without having much substance to it. To be brutally honest, this sort of tale could’ve been told with Jason Statham / Nicolas Cage in the lead role in your standard straight-to-DVD thriller and it’d probably have more redeeming features than the film in its current state.
It feels a lot like cinematic gentrification. Style and visual qualities and appearing to be cool taking precedent over any sort of substance or attempt to tell a ripping old yarn. Instead of being the darling of Camden Town and being a film hipsters wet dream it feels more like watching your drunk Dad dancing to the Macarena. A devastatingly disappointing effort that is nothing more than a very large blot on Winding-Refn and Goslings CV’s and should be banished to the fiery pits of hell post haste
I’ll give it two points for only being 90 minutes long though. Kindness and all that.