When an ex-pat Gangster’s brother is killed by a cop, revenge is the only thing on the mind of his mother. He, however, hopes for another way.
Nicolas Winding Refn is a great director. Unfortunately, he is also the quintessential example of a pretentious director. His interviews sound that way and his films appear that way. To a certain degree, I suppose I have just had to accept that about him.
It means I cut him a lot of slack in movie like “Neon Demon” or “Valhalla Rising,” where he is trying something with a philosophical slant and a little less when it seems to be a more straightforward film like “Drive.”
That leaves me in a quandary though because in “Only God Forgives” he seems to be saying more yet the film has a very simple plot, the same thing we saw with “Drive.” So the question really is, how much slack should I cut this movie?
“Only God Forgives” starts out the way that I like a drug fueled trip into the criminal underbelly to start. Lots of enigmatic imagery, neon light, synth sound score, and only a little bit of explanation as we go. The unfortunate side of that coin, however, is that when things begin to be revealed it isn’t very subtle or complicated.
As I started the movie I found myself thinking, “Aw yeah. Here we go” but by the end I was checking my phone. The story and character revelations never rise in such a way as to engage any other part of my being than the one that enjoys good camera work and lighting. It never tapped into my love for story or theme.
I think there is a theme in the film I am missing though. I have to rewatch it. I know that Winding Refn was criticised for this film having its theme intentionally kept hidden without much cause, another occurrence of his pretensions.
I can’t say what that theme is yet but there are hints of it in the characters' relationships to each other. The fighting imagery vs the pacifism it seems Gosling (“Blade Runner 2049”) has toward the Cop (Vithaya Pansringarm, “A Prayer Before Dawn”), and also in the performance and singing scenes which seem like they may mean something having to do with how the world sees the cop or maybe a comparison between him and the mother played by Kristin Scott Thomas (“The Horse Whisperer”).
It’s hard to say. Like I said, I want to see it again. For me, that is all the reason I need in order to rate a film pretty well. It intrigued me, which is more than I can say for “Drive” or “Neon Demon” which while visually interesting fell off opposite sides of the Winding Refn tightrope I have constructed in my mind.
On some level at least, “Only God Forgives” is the only one of NWR’s movies that I am actively interested in at this point simply because I feel like I haven’t unearthed its treasures as of yet. I hope there are some.
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