Sunday, August 04, 2013

Only God Forgives is a must-see

Only God Forgives is remarkable cinema; anyone concerned with film should rush to the Rio Theatre tomorrow (Monday, at 7:30 and 9:30) to catch it on the big screen before it goes away for good.

I've been a slow study when it comes to Nicolas Winding Refn. I had no great fondness for Refn's previous film, his North American breakthrough Drive; I watched it once, shrugged, and no longer have a strong enough remembrance of the film to fairly comment on it, save that Refn seemed to wear his influences on his sleeve (Michael Mann, Walter Hill, maybe a bit of Kubrick), and that I am no great Ryan Gosling fan (though I did like him in Fracture, which takes his apparent smugness and runs it through the mire a bit: by pitting him against a better, if hammier, actor, Anthony Hopkins, who plays his nemesis, the film almost stands as a metaphor for itself - the on-screen cat-and-mouse game figuring the clash of talents behind it). Though I've been told Refn's Pusher trilogy is great, and was impressed by what I saw of Valhalla Rising, the only other Refn film I have seen to completion is Fear X, his ambiguous Hubert Selby Jr. collaboration, starring John Turturro as a man whose pregnant wife has been murdered, who may or may not get justice for himself, having followed an obscure lead to a different town, where he confronts the vigilante responsible for her death (James Remar - best known these days as Dexter's ghost-dad). It's a remarkably visual film that at times is very gripping, but it leaves just enough unexplained that for me, it seemed (on first viewing, anyhow) to be kinda unfinished and unsatisfying.
Nothing of the sort can be said for Only God Forgives: while it does refrain from spelling things out, and gives what appears to be competing "objective"/ real and subjective/ hallucinatory versions of its action at certain points, sometimes not tipping its hand as to which is which - the film offers a morally complex, psychologically rich drama that DOES arrive at completion, while still leaving the viewer lots to discuss and/or ponder. It's also beautifully shot, by Fear X's Larry Smith, who also worked on Refn's Bronson and three Kubrick films; Refn tips his hat to Gaspar Noe in the credits, and you can see why (the more commented-upon hat-tip to Jodorowsky is more oblique, though it presumably has more to do with the themes of the film, which take in troubled mother-son relations and a young man's rise into maturity, than it does with its look. There's also quite a bit of business involving hands and their severing, which resonates a bit against Santa Sangre...). The Thai locations and various beautifully-filmed set pieces, such as the slow, lovely tracking shot in which Chang (Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, below) practices his swordsmanship, keep the film visually compelling for those with a hungry eye; Kristin Scott Thomas steps miles outside of her usual neurotic, stuffy Brit role to play a fierce American blonde Mom-from-Hell with various crime connections; and Cliff Martinez provides a terrific score, mostly consisting of overtly-Tangerine-Dreamy analog synth stuff, which is not shy in taking center stage at a couple points. Gosling is pretty good, too; maybe I just like seeing him get the shit beat out of him! Far as I'm concerned, Only God Forgives is a must-see, though be warned: the violence in it is brutal and unpredictable and may cause the odd flinch and/or gasp from any less-desensitized girlfriends you happen to talk into coming along. I speak from experience on that one.

Only God Forgives appears to end its Vancouver run on Monday, so make sure you get out to catch it while you can...

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