Thursday, December 5, 2013

Only God Forgives: A Review


Good, Because No One Else Will...

My friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. would always get after me whenever I described something as 'pretentious'.  However, even Fidel would agree that Only God Forgives, the newest avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn project, is just that: pretentious.  Only God Forgives is self-important crap, so full of itself that it confuses empty with sparse.  The seriousness with which Only God Forgives drowns in is so laughable that only by laughing at is own sense of grandness can one get through this dull and virtually unwatchable production.

Fortunately, the two leads lend themselves so easily to parody that they either were in on a joke they didn't share with anyone or were so wrapped up in the 'importance' of the project they made themselves look sillier the more they tried to look serious.

Julian (avant-garde actor Gosling) is involved in shady practices in Bangkok.  The Muay Thai Boxing club he and his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is really a front for drug running.  Billy likes the girls young, so he finds an underage prostitute whom he rapes and kills.  The girl's father brings Police Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who enacts violent retribution to both Billy and the girl's father (he kills the former, chops the arm of the other with the sword the Bangkok Police are obviously issued).

Billy and Julian's mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), a major drug operator has now come to Bangkok to avenge Billy's murder.  Julian thinks Billy was justifiable killed for his act, but Crystal, who loves Billy more than Julian (and whose love might extend far beyond the normal mother-son relationship), demands vengeance.  She hires Gordon (Gordon Brown...not the former British Prime Minister), another expatriate/Billy associate, to hunt down Chang.  He does but fails to kill him.  Now Chang goes after Gordon in the most gruesome way and discovers who wants him dead.  Contracts against all of Chang's family are placed, but Julian opts to not carry the entirety of those plans.  Chang, however, does find Crystal, and with regards to Julian...that remains curiously unanswered.

Hey Girl,
I make millions by not changing my expression
for two hours.

Only God Forgives tries so desperately hard to be something deep that it only succeeds in being deep in one respect...deep delusional camp.  I was amazed to find I kept writing the word 'crap' over and over again while watching the film. 

Only God Forgives can be described in many ways.  I found it to be a copy of what a third-rate David Lynch would look like at Lynch's most self-indulgent.  The highly stylized manner of both the visuals and the actors (who at times served as nothing more than set pieces) sucks the life out of whatever sense of tension or dread we're suppose to have.  We can't feel anything for any of these characters because they are not real.  They are simply caricatures, almost zombie-like in their behavior.  We jump from scene to scene without any real sense of logic.  Right after Chang chops off a man's arm, we jump to him in the middle of uniformed officers, where Chang sings us a Thai karaoke number. 

Frankly, Only God Forgives dares us not to laugh at it and its innate silliness.  Again and again, in terms of its acting and style, the film is so full of itself we neither care about what's going on or whether anyone comes out of it alive.

Oddly, the film brings to mind another filmmaker.  Only God Forgives is what a Wes Anderson version of a Martin Scorsese film would look like: the mannered performances in particular.  The difference is that Lynch, Anderson, and Scorsese make their films work (most of the time) because their style fits their stories.  Refn doesn't have that.  Instead, he has lots of visual style but either tries too hard at authenticity (for example, the opening credits were written in Thai) or artifice (when Julian goes to a prostitute he frequents early in the film, apparently he gets his jollies by watching her masturbate while he is tied up).  Even when Billy looks at the girl he's killed, he doesn't react at all.

That might be one of the big things that kill Only God Forgives.  There appears to be either a deliberate manner to either underplay things (like avant-garde actor Gosling, who expresses no emotion throughout) or overplay things (like Thomas, who screeches and comes close to being a drag queen.  No one can watch a woman talk about her son's massive cock and not burst out laughing.  That was already bad enough, but when it is filmed in the overtly stylized manner the film adopts, it turns everything into an Oedipal farce.

Avant-garde Gosling is perhaps the worst of all this.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, Gosling has only seventeen lines in the entire film.  We've seen him go for this 'strong, silent' type before (particularly in Drive), where he is suppose to be a man of mystery and few words.  However, this is carrying things way too far: when you are ostensibly the star of a 90 minute film, seventeen lines (or about a line reading every five and a half minutes) is far too much to tolerate.

Only God Forgives is wrapped up in its own sense of importance that it becomes hilarious.  The more profound it thinks it is, the more hilarious it ends up being. 

Self-indulgent is another term I would use to describe Only God Forgives.  Right from the title we see how this film takes things so seriously, with some greater sense of self-importance that to not laugh at it would be a sin.  It isn't until well into the film that we even so much as learn avant-garde actor Gosling's character's name (Julian). 

What really ruins the movie is that everything is so deliberately over-stylized that quickly the excessive mannerisms of the characters soon renders them jokes.  We never learn if things are real or fantasy, or whether these people are actually living.  The story itself is good if it were handled more realistically. 

Only God Forgives is embarrassingly, laughingly bad.  It's boring, painfully slow for its short running time, and thinks too highly of itself to be taken seriously.  One should watch it only to see people try so hard to be profound only to flounder in their own misguided ideas of their own genius. 

Somehow, I think avant-garde actor Gosling lost a Golden Opportunity.  As lousy as The Hangover Part II was, if HE had been in THAT Bangkok Surprise I'm sure I would have laughed more.  Then again, having already laughed plenty at Only God Forgives, maybe avant-garde actor Gosling CAN make comedies.  Granted, in this case it was unintentional, but a comedy nonetheless...

How the audience felt after watching


1 comment:

  1. There are few things I hate more than a pretentious movie, and I will do everything I can to avoid watching this piece of crap.

    By the way, hilarious captions on the pictures, as well as good humor throughout.



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