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A review of Refn and Gosling's ONLY GOD FORGIVES, direct from Cannes!!

Published at: May 23, 2013, 5:30 p.m. CST

Howdy do, everyone, it's Papa Vinyard here.

 

I have here a review of Nicolas Winding Refn's upcoming collaboration with Ryan Gosling, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, straight outta Cannes. It's totally lite on the spoilers, which I like. It seems like our Auda here wasn't a huge fan, even though he/she is clearly familiar with Refn's work beyond DRIVE. It would seem like Refn is going back to the BRONSON and VALHALLA RISING slow-roll style he was known for before going all sexy and neon in DRIVE. The bit about Gosling's performance has me concerned; he always teeters so close to minimalism anyway that I could imagine him getting lost in Refn's ambitiously silent storytelling. Even so, the technical side seems to be there, and many of you (and myself) were so crazy about DRIVE that no negativity will prevent us from checking it out, even with all the stuffy shirts booing it at its premiere. Here's Auda:

 

 

Hello Harry,

 Here's a review of the latest Refn film shown at Cannes. You're welcome to use it even though it's somewhat negative. Just call me Auda if you must.

 Keep up the good work!

 Here goes:

 I won't get into spoiler territory in this review. Honestly, there's such a slim storyline that to relate any incident would spoil the first third or half of the film. And it's not a film that's very concerned with events or causality anyway. Visions, fate and the roles we have to play are the driving forces at play.

 I've only seen five films of Refn: Pusher and its first sequel, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive. Of the five, I rank them from least interesting to most amazing: Pusher, Pusher 2, Valhalla Rising, Bronson, Drive.

 I haven't seen a better movie since Drive, that's how much I enjoyed it.

 So, lots of expectations, tempered by the early reviews (some of which were glowing but mostly, not so much).

 Only God Forgives is just as well shot as Drive. It features a great score and a superb sound mix, much like Drive. And the sets hit just the right balance between kitsch, authenticity and dreamlike.

 For the rest, long story short: a script would have been nice. Drive almost plays like a talkative Woody Allen next to this film. And I dig silence: 2001 is one of my favorite films. So is Drive, to a lesser extent. I understand that Refn wants to make “pure cinema” in the Hitchcokian sense, it's all very ambitious and visceral and when it works, it works extremely well (look at all the silent parts of North by Northwest, Rear Window or the wordless interludes in Shining or Once Upon a Time in the West).

 Still, dialogues are sometimes necessary for such things as plot and character development. Because OGF really plays like a twin to Valhalla Rising. Except in Valhalla, these were brutish, uneducated men from the Dark Ages, they weren't really known for their verbal eloquence. And its silent mysticism felt more attuned to the era and predicament (but perhaps that's because I'm unfamiliar with Oriental mysticism). We understand early on that this is a bilingual film, where some characters only master one language, but there should have been more dialogues for the film to connect with the audience. And there's a body part in this that is overly fetishized and it becomes tiresome very quickly. Drive is like a gorgeous girl masturbating in front of you, both verbally and literally, keeping you at arm's length all the while as she soliloquizes about Western vs Eastern symbolism (we've all had that happen, right?).

Atmosphere is well handled but ultimately rings a little hollow, mostly because of the barely sketched characters. Scott-Thomas delivers a strong, singular performance, as does Vithaya Pansringarm. However, they remain ciphers (or ghosts of characters). Ryan Gosling is a bit wasted here. I don't know if it's the lack of direction but he is perhaps too witheld for his own good. Julian is no Driver. While Drive could conjure contradictory emotions within the same sequence, OFG is more monotonous or obsessional. Anyway, it isn't a bad film but even its inclusion in the official competition feels a bit generous.

 There were even some points where I felt the film should have been aiming higher, within its own logic, and these missed opportunities feel like a lack of imagination. Something I can't say for most of Refn's filmography because I quite like the man and his radical choices. At times, it plays like a sub-par Lynch. Or a neon-lit samurai film with karaoke.

 So, not an uninteresting work, just both a bit of disappointment as a follow-up to Drive and a (small) step back for Refn. I rank it between Pusher 2 and Valhalla Rising.

 Hope I didn't dampen your expectations too much. It's still gorgeous to watch, quite hypnotic and the music and sound mix are worthy of the big screen. Some people might even find it cult and you might enjoy its mysteries. Others will yearn for something that resonates aside from the soundtrack. Like its characters, the film is fighting against itself.

 On a final note, it's very bloody. Not glamorously so, but gruesome as hell. The action quotient is minimal though. Slow and bloody and often visually sublime, Only God Forgives will divide.

-Vincent Zahedi
”Papa Vinyard”
vincentzahedi@gmail.com
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