DRIVE was one of my favorite films of 2011. When I had heard about ONLY GOD FORGIVES I could not wait to see it. I wanted to love ONLY GOD FORGIVES I really did, but walked away just liking it. The good news is that I was never bored. The movie is very atmospheric and a slow burn. Very slow. Plus it just oozes with style. Too much style? Nah, man! Why is style over substance in a film almost always immediately frowned upon? Not just by critics but also by moviegoers. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in motion pictures.
I admire the artistic style of Nicolas Winding Refn and his fetish for on screen violence. The simplest way for me to describe his latest film is imagine David Lynch directing a script written by Quentin Tarantino.
The basic premise is two American drug lord brothers are operating in the underbelly of Bangkok using a kick boxing gym as a front. The oldest brother Billy, is twisted and one night murders a prostitute. Out of revenge the young girls father kills Billy. Billy's mother wants her son Julian to find the people responsible and kill them. Revenge is never a straight line and in the middle of all this is a police officer (who is more like an angel of vengeance) dead set on 'restoring order'.
The performances are amazing. This is the re-teaming of director Nicholas Winding Refn and his DRIVE lead actor Ryan Gosling. Ryan's Julian is a troubled sort who would rather try and win the affection of his favorite prostitute than climb the 'corporate' ladder. Another dark and stoic performance by Gosling, but his Julian is by no means a anti-hero much like The Driver in DRIVE.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Crystal, the mother of Billy and Julian. Thomas' Crystal is one of the best performances in the film. I love it when actors play against type. She nails it. A lot is left to the imagination on how Crystal became the icy bitch she is. Think Lady Macbeth meets Desperate Housewife. The apparent Oedipal relationship she has with her son Julian might have something to do with it as well.
Then we have the true star of the film, the title character god himself, Officer Chang. A brilliant performance from Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. The line is blurred and left to interpretation if Chang is the hero or true villain. He's pretty villainous no question but aren't his acts of Old Testament 'angel of vengeance' just? At times they certainly seem so. Truly a great cinematic character!
Instead of your standard narrative what we get is a lot of style over substance. It is evident that Refn is more concerned about the image, human nature, philosophy, and a fetish for violence then liner storytelling when it comes to his films.
Recommended if you liked DRIVE. If you hated DRIVE then you'll probably loathe ONLY GOD FORGIVES. How could you hate DRIVE?