Hey girl, want to see Ryan Gosling violently lay waste to some Thai gangsters? Well, the critics don’t.
If the polarising of critics is a good sign, then the new Ryan Gosling/Nicholas Winding Refn collaboration, Only God Forgives, could be a very exciting prospect when it hits cinemas in July this year.
Gosling’s talent for playing violent monosyllabic maniacs with a sensitive side was on display in Drive
Gosling’s talent for playing violent monosyllabic maniacs with a sensitive side was on display in the last movie he made with Danish director Refn, 2011′s stylish neo-noir, Drive. Drive, although notable for its night photography, woozy pace and throbbing electro score, was not just a mood piece. The awkward silences and brooding close-ups of Drive’s protagonists sustained the genuine ambiguity of the relationships between them, especially between Gosling and his ‘love’ interest (Carey Mulligan). The plot was deftly constructed. The style enhanced the substance.
Set in Bangkok, Only God Forgives features Gosling as Julian, the drug-dealing boss of a Thai boxing club. When his brother murders a prostitute and is killed by her vengeful father, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) implores Julian to exact revenge on his brother’s killers. So it’s pretty clear that it’s going to be a violent revenge drama with family issues.
Nominated for the top prize at Cannes 2013, Only God Forgives was booed and labelled self-indulgent and pretentious by many critics. The plot has been described as standard B-movie fare, with incoherent, cartoonish characters and gratuitous violence. There is some hint of that in the reviews to date. It will be interesting to see whether the plot is as silly and shallow as the Cannes audiences have suggested, or whether there is more to this than titillation. In essence, is it a Death Wish or an Oldboy?
Read this: What we learned at Cannes 2013
Other critics, including the Guardian, have given a much more positive response, praising the aesthetics of Only God Forgives and finding subtlety in the relationships. Many have also mentioned the gorgeous neon-saturated photography by long-term Stanley Kubrick collaborator Larry Smith, who worked on The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon.
The stakes are higher for Refn than for Gosling on Only God Forgives. As for Gosling, is the world getting tired of him?
Regardless of whether Only God Forgives has any real substance, the synopsis suggests that fans of violent genre cinema with an oriental element may adore it, even though on the evidence of the story alone, you could easily replace Gosling with someone like Steven Seagal. As for Refn, his films have tipped over into pretension before. He’s clearly interested in exploring male violence, but the theatrical and arty flourishes of his 2008 film Bronson sat uneasily with the blunt machismo. His first American movie, 2003′s Fear X, was so unsuccessful (both financially and critically) that it bankrupted its production company. The stakes are probably higher for Refn than for Gosling on Only God Forgives, and this could be a crucial moment in the Dane’s career.
Refn is relaxed about the Cannes reaction, saying “I only like it when people love it or hate it. They did that with Drive, and now people just forgot they hated it. So it’s kind of ironic. What’s happening now is what happened last time. So for me, I’m like, ‘Oh, they’ll come around.’” As for Gosling, is the world simply getting tired of him?
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Featured image: Wild Bunch
Picture: Wild Bunch