Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SFF Review: Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013)

The new collaboration between Danish writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Drive) and star Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines) caused quite a stir at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The hyper-violent crime thriller received a divisive vocal reception from the crowd at the Croisette; and while the film’s pacing, heavy stylisation and stomach-churning violence will likely result in its share of detractors, on an aesthetic level it is a highly professional work of formal vision and precision. Following Drive (for which Refn was awarded Best Director at Cannes), he has taken a potentially alienating diversion here. This challenging film, driven by his own existential crises and his fascination with images in favour of dialogue and violent characters that live on the fringe of reality, is a daring and unconventional exercise of a very different beast. Though not all of Refn’s decisions hit the mark this time, it is a tough film to shake.

Julian (Gosling) runs a Thai boxing club with his brothers, using it as a front to smuggle and deal drugs. When his brother Billy (Tom Burke) rapes and kills an underage prostitute he is turned over to the young woman’s father by a ruthless retired cop named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who has resolved to bringing divine justice to the corrupt Bangkok underworld. Billy’s subsequent death-by-vengeance brings their mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), the head of the crime syndicate, to Bangkok to reclaim his body. She instructs Julian to find and kill those responsible for her favourite son’s death, which draws him in to Chang’s own reign of vengeful bloodshed.

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