Nicholas Winding Refn
Stripped of the pulsing, often wonderful score (Cliff Martinez) and the director’s annoying but exhilarating in equal doses neon fetish Only God Forgives would be the worst film I’ve ever seen. That it comes from Nicholas Winding Refn and not, as you could otherwise presume, an audacious film student who has heard of David Lynch and thought Old Boy was the best film ever, is part of the strange upset of this film. That the sleepwalking, stoned-over, hoping-for-Brando/settling-for-paycheque Ryan Gosling shows far less than just a purposeful blankness is cause for concern, suggesting this actor/director pairing somehow fluked Drive.
But these are all reasons I saw the film – and reasons why people will continue to go to Only God Forgives, possibly, eventually, claiming it some strange triumph, a whole new era of the so-bad-it’s-really-bad-but-that-means-cult Cult Film. But no, in the end this movie is just extraordinarily awful.
That it is full of torture-porn and unsettling silences with clunky dialogue and strange lapses in action and explain-away flashbacks that never quite make sense but never quite allow this to sit inside some twisted dream reverie is not the film’s unique selling point; nor is it the film’s ultimate disaster. The issue here is that it is woefully boring, that talented players (outside of Martinez, who, again, delivers) are made to look like chumps; have made themselves look like chumps. And that there is no reason – strange fetish or otherwise – to be seen to champion this semi-varnished turd.
The karaoke moment – if a nod to Lynch – should be received as insult rather than tribute. And the revenge plot is lame: Gosling’s character Julian runs a fighting ring in Thailand, his brother kills a hooker, their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes over with only an overnight bag, no room for heart or soul, and instructs that Julian kill her other son’s killer. Without all the night-time neon moments and awkward pauses where, you can only guess, pages of the script are missing and the actors stood waiting, cameras still rolling, this would be a trim – been done so many times before/nothing to say – 25 minute short. But instead it’s an excruciating feature-length slog.
The title is the film’s best aspect – for it would take a fictitious entity to forgive this steaming pile. Point being, forgiveness can never truly happen with regard to this film. To everyone (cast and crew and audience) it’s simply a slow, cruel waste of time when all concerned could have instead been doing anything else.