On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

Only God Forgives

2013/ France, Thailand, USA, Sweden

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott ThomasVithaya PansringarmGordon BrownYayaying Rhatha PhongamTom Burke

So I’m not a big fan of ‘modern art‘. I don’t really know much about art, let alone ‘modern art’. But some times when I look at ‘modern art’, I get it. I get why people may like it. At least I think I get it. I feel something. Or I go “Wooah. That’s kinda cool.” And it makes me think, and stand still and forget about the company I’m with meaning I’m then lost as I come out of the trance. Many people I’ve talked to don’t like Only God Forgives. A few people I’ve talked to did like it. But everyone’s had an opinion. What I thought was good about it seemed to not have crossed the minds of the people I talked to who didn’t like it. The stuff they didn’t like about it was the stuff I don’t like about ‘modern art’. You get me?

Sometimes you can be in the right headspace for something and it just hits you square between the eyes. Then you can’t close those eyes for what feels like the entirety of your time with the thing. Well, I was in the right vibe for Only God Forgives. The World’s End two days before was a real disappointment (an opinion which will put even more of you off this review I’m sure) and begging for something with a little more audience participation this was just what the doctor ordered. Because so little is said in the film, and so much is shown to you at a slightly slower pace to normal life; it really gives you time to think and read into the micro-movements of the characters faces. Thinking about their pasts and futures. It’s certainly not a ‘real’ film. It’s set up for you to get lost inside it. You can really get into it if you’re willing to trust. A strange feeling however as its themes and actions are so twisted.

It’s also beautiful. In all aspects. Larry Scott returns as cinematographer from his previous collaboration with Refn on Bronson. The strong neon lights (a reoccurring characteristic of recent Oriental cinema, also Bronson) are really used to perfection, with certain shots and lighting making me wish we could see the colours in those old noir flicks. The score from Cliff Martinez, another returning collaboration from Drive, is seriously seriously menacing. The room shook like a pulsing internal organ, and would then sparkled like flashbulbs and fresh rain on tarmac. Ah. The sound design was precise and clean and scary. The set design was so colourful and spot-on, creating another universe from the every-day-every-film Americana sets. The editing choices a psychoanalyst’s wet dream.

This leads to the main argument against the film. Style over substance. I understand this suggestion, but happen to think the style acts as a large part of the substance. Imagine this film shot differently. It wouldn’t work. There are conventions in filmmaking. They are there to sustain disbelief, to fool your eye then brain into thinking that this whole thing is real and these people are actually talking to each other. These rules are consistently broken; therefore we notice frames within frames, lighting and its impact on the story and the mass amount of subtext hiding behind the character’s faces. It makes us think and concentrate (or tune out and laugh).

Another negative I’ve heard and considered is that view of “Is Ryan Gosling so famous now that he doesn’t even need to speak in a movie?” I’d say that’s part of the film. No one talks (apart from Kristen Scott- Thomas). They look, which is a lot more interesting. It’s also his character who doesn’t talk, not him. Think about why his character doesn’t talk. Think about what may have happened to him to make him so silent. I do think though (and this is hard to say) that Gosling was the weakest of the main three leading roles. I did feel however that he was merely flesh and blood, only there to enable the audience to see Refn’s vision. I’ll tell you one thing, it’s impossible to not have a view on this movie. I’m arguing with myself here

Looking at some ‘modern art’ just goes over my head, but when something grabs your attention you almost end up entranced in meditation just staring into it and considering your own individual thoughts. Fair enough this might be quite a poncy reading of the film, but then a lot of ‘modern art’ is poncy. Until something strikes you, then your brain runs all over it (no reference to the enormous amount of graphic violence in the film).

I realise I haven’t really said much really about the actual film itself. It’s weird. But I liked it. Whatever you may think, I do think it’s worth watching. Also worth watching at the cinema. Give it a chance to persuade you. Really look at it. Look into all the eyes that stare, the mutilated bodies and the dark shadows. And remember, THIS ISN’T DRIVE 2!

P.S. It’s more like Bronson 2.

-Sam Taylor


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