Published Jul 18, 2013If nothing else, Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn is a master of lighting, or at least he employs someone that is a master of lighting. Though his composition has no consideration for the bigger picture or trajectory, existing as fragmented portraitures constituting a desultory and shallow hodgepodge of commercial images, each shot has a distinct mood, whether saturated in deep shadows or blood reds, distinguishing planes and considers the entire backdrop, much like a spread in Vanity Fair.
This aesthetic focus in his latest, and most unintentionally hilarious, bout of male posturing, Only God Forgives, is the only distinction or visual indicator of progression since his similarly indulgent and childish Valhalla Rising, wherein a bunch of men painted themselves red and grunted in a swamp for two hours. It's very much like watching a protracted perfume commercial, with Ryan Gosling embodying the image of a pouty, apathetic model with perfect aplomb, standing around sulking in rural Thai locales, boxing rings and, more often, purgatory, as fashioned by Gucci.
This deep red, paisley underworld is posited as his psychological prison. Julian (Gosling) stares blankly at walls, contemplating the death of his child rapist/murderer brother, Billy (Thom Burke). He, unlike everyone else in the movie, doesn't act on vengeful impulses, realizing that the man who killed his brother did so as a logical response to the brutal slaughter of his underage daughter. Julian's drug-dealing criminal mastermind mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), doesn't have the same degree of empathy, suggesting that her son is a bit of a pussy, noting that his inferior penis size is the likely culprit.
This conversation, wherein Julian's mother calls his hooker girlfriend a "cum-dumpster" and makes visible O-faces when talking about her son's peen, is the only interesting thing going on in the movie. For the majority, it's little more than extended, overly padded slow motion takes of various characters modeling for the camera while smoking or awaiting torture. Intermittently, Thai karaoke arises after someone is dismembered, or nailed to a chair and stabbed in the eye, but the duration of the runtime is spent on hollow, well-lit images that signify nothing, leaving a great deal of time to look at Gosling's necklace or the props sitting in the background of various sets.
The puerile rendering of vengeance as a logical progression of the human experience, along with the amusingly on-the-nose handling of oedipal impulses — something made ridiculously literal when Julian finally returns to his conceptual origin — leave little to contemplate. Refn's self-important drama, scoring everything with a rumbling severity while Gosling sulks about the set, doing the same try-hard, stoic wanker routine he crapped out for Drive, is so desperate for a meaning that doesn't exist that it's hard not to wonder if this entire ordeal isn't just an elaborate joke.
Worse is that after the flimsy narrative and pretentious handling of youthful male angst plays out with the requisite explicit violence and inherent misogyny implicit in works like this, Refn throws up a title card referencing Alejandro Jodorowsky, essentially revelling in his own smug satisfaction, suggesting that western esotericism somehow influenced this work. On the surface, it may have, which is likely the only reason the poster for this film doesn't feature a perfume bottle and the title, "Anguish" by Refn.
Sadly, this wasteful work of desperate affectedness has all the depth of a photo shoot on America's Next Top Model. The title spells out exactly what the film has to offer and any contemplation beyond that runs only as deep as Gosling's anguished glare.
If only he'd learned how to smize from Tyra Banks, this could have been brilliant. (eOne)