Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Distributed by Anchor Bay
The bloodied mess of a young girl’s corpse lay at the feet of her calmly crazed killer. Limbs are unceremoniously hacked off with an executioner’s blade. Eyes are gouged out, throats punctured, sternums split open to spray out geysers of blood – all as dispassionate eyes look on.
…this is not what I was expecting from Only God Forgives. Sure, the directing/acting duo of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling previously gave us the shockingly violent neo-noir Drive, but nothing in that film quite touches the savagery on display in this new film. Unfortunately, while Forgives is an utterly brutal thriller that boasts fine acting and a strong premise, the film’s promise is completely lost in a morass of its own glacial pacing and its dreamy, languid atmosphere.
The film opens by introducing us to Julian (Gosling), an American living in Thailand running a kickboxing ring which acts as a front for his drug-peddling operation, which he runs along with his dangerous older brother Billy (Burke). When Billy rapes and murders a sixteen-year old girl, no-nonsense police investigator Chang (Pansringarm) arranges for vigilante justice and oversees Billy’s death – an event which brings Julian back into contact with his unhinged, domineering mother Crystal (Scott Thomas). When she learns of the true nature of her first-born’s murder, she orders Julian to execute those responsible, setting in motion a chain of violent and tragic events which threatens to flood the streets of Bangkok in a sea of blood.
Doesn’t sound too terrible, does it? And indeed, the film’s potential was great. The photography, often saturated with neon hues, is often gorgeous. Cliff Martinez’s dreamy synth score recalls early Michael Mann films, and is one of the film’s greater accomplishments. Gosling, Scott Thomas, and Pansringarm are all very good in the film, for what little they’re given to do. And therein lies my problem with the film.
For all the possibilities the film’s setup holds, Refn seems content to simply play with his dreamlike style and surreal interludes, and somehow manages to completely forget that he’s meant to be telling, y’know, a story. I have no problem with the slow-burn approach, – I very much enjoyed Refn’s two previous films (Drive and the fantastic Viking thriller Valhalla Rising), each of which were quite deliberately paced.
But in Forgives, his considerable style overtakes what little substance there is, giving us a very pretty but ultimately completely hollow film. Shame. Here’s hoping all involved regain their footing and deliver a better film on their next outing.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray sports a good-looking image, sharply detailed with gorgeous color (the punchy 5.1 audio track is no slouch, either). The real surprise with this film’s presentation is the amount of bonus features on the disc. In addition to an audio commentary with director Refn, there are: a pair of interviews with Refn (one concerning Thailand, the other genre cinema); a featurette focused on the talented Martinez and his score; and a set of 13 (!) behind-the-scenes featurettes covering various aspects of the film’s production, concerning everything from the choosing of the executioner’s sword, to filming the movie’s gunfight, to Refn on set directing. Overall, not an overwhelming batch of extras, but a solid set nevertheless.
Overall, folks – if you’re a fan of the director, you’re likely going to wanna check this out no matter what I say. That said – all others with only a passing interest (if any interest at all) would do well to go ahead and pass this film by. For all of greatness it might have achieved, the film stands as only so much squandered potential. I wish Refn all the best with whatever his next film might be, but sadly – there is no forgiving this mess.
2 out of 5
3 out of 5