Sunday, October 27, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Only God Forgives

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

After the stylish and rather brilliant Drive, I had high hopes and anticipation for Nicholas Winding Refn’s follow up Only God Forgives. The same great look is there with the seedy underworld of Bangkok replacing Los Angeles. The film is bathed in neon lights and deep reds, but it lacks any heart.

Drive worked because we cared about the characters. This time Refn doesn’t give us a hero. Sure, Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug smuggler in Thailand, has some redemption when he prevents the murder of an innocent child, but apart from that one act I couldn’t find anything to get behind.

It’s a revenge story with Julian discovering that his brother’s death was well-deserved, but when their mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives, that’s not good enough. A police detective (Vithaya Pansringarm) is at least partially behind brother Billy’s death. But this detective is not a man you want to piss off. He metes out his own sense of justice with a sword, lopping off the arm of a man who allowed his teenage daughter to continue as a prostitute, or torturing another by slicing out his eyes and jabbing a long needle into his ear.

The violence is not for the faint of heart. Refn films it with a very cold and unsparing camera. There’s little art in the framing. Most of the time characters are placed dead center, an unsettling method of composition. It’s a crime thriller, but at times seems more like an urban nightmare or even a horror film, aided greatly by the synthesizer score by Cliff Martinez, which is reminiscent of 80s horror music.

But everything is cold and emotionless. There’s not a single human reaction to anything. Even when a man is tortured in a room with a half dozen women who’ve been instructed to close their eyes, there’s not a single flinch or twitch as the man screams in agonizing pain. I realize Refn is trying for a certain effect, whether it’s a comment on our desensitization to violence or something else I’m not sure. I just know it renders everything in the movie devoid of any reason to care or to watch.

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