Nicolas Winding Refyn got just about everything right with Drive. Slick and sophisticated, Drive created an intense cinematic atmosphere whilst balancing romance with violent action. In the two short year that Drive has existed it has gathered a cult like following with its simplicity and suspense being viewed as refreshing and original. It is an undefinable film that refuses to be put into any particular category of genre or style. Two years later Only God Forgives, Winding Refn’s follow up film that also starred Ryan Gosling, hit cinemas to highly mixed reviews. Amongst my friendship groups the reviews were all negative. Most seemed to agree that it took all the best elements of Drive and over exaggerated them, resulting in a soulless film with little to no story or development. Sadly, I missed out on seeing the film on its first release but have finally sat down to watch it. Only God Forgives is certainly a mess but it is by no means a complete failure. There are many things to be admired here but there is also evidence of some terrible misjudgement that has truly damaged the final product. The film revolves around Julian, a drug smuggling, club owning criminal living in the shady underworld of Thailand’s capital. When his brother is murdered and his mother forces him to track down the killer, Julian’s life grows instantly more dangerous and complicated.
Gosling’s nameless character in Drive speaks very rarely; this lack of dialogue adding to his charm. Julian speaks less than twenty times in Only God Forgives. The difference being that Julian’s silence makes him distant and impossible to associate with. Refyn has the ingredients for a truly great thriller but he doesn’t combine them well. The violence in Drive was handled intelligently where as Only God Forgives is full of so many decapitations and slicings that it felt not excessive or unnecessary but ineffective. The cinematography is faultless. From start to finish Only God Forgives is aesthetically stunning. Cinematographer Larry Smith has successfully captured an authenticity and a beauty in his images that makes Only God Forgives, in at least this one way, remarkable. Ryan Gosling gives an intense performance as another man of silence. His lack of dialogue has clearly not restricted him and he continues to deepen his filmography with rich and exciting roles such as this. It is the always remarkable Kristin Scott Thomas who gives the greatest performance of the whole film. Almost unrecognisable behind several layers of liquid eye-liner and peroxide blonde extensions, she gives a fierce and refreshing performance as the world’s most twisted and volatile mother. The pace of the film is unbearable, with the simple fact being that there is not enough story to carry the audience through 90 minutes of stunning cinematography. The lack of narrative is a major over-sight and one that has cost the director the attention and interest of many an audience. Despite the film’s electrifying appearance and stable performances, there is little substance to be found and one grows restless after a mere twenty minutes.
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