Rated: R for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: July 19, 2013 Released by: Radius-TWC
Bangkok-based revenge yarn doesn't have the character and story propulsion to make for a memorably tragic dark city depiction. One obviously different than observed in The Hangover Part II.
In a clearly divisive Only God Forgives director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn is back with his Drive star Ryan Gosling (very good in The Place Beyond the Pines) in another introverted portrait that doesn't involve the same kind of taut apprehension one may have expected. A fantastical approach by the creative helmer cuts a dream-like manner into the narrative that invites comparison to some of David Lynch's oeuvre, like the strangely compelling Mulholland Drive.
Gosling's Julian runs a Thai gym with his brother as a cover for a narcotics operation until something awful happens upon the murder of a prostitute by the latter. You don't get taken on the kind of emotional ride filled with a muscular dynamism as the performances mostly have a subtle understated quality about them. Well, except Kristin Scott Thomas's sadistic 'Mommie Dearest' turn as crime lord matriarch platinum blonde Crystal who definitely is a catalyst and a presence when on screen always in control of her submissive son Julian. Too bad her impassioned exaggerated character couldn't have been more persuasive pulse-wise for the rest of the film.
The filmmaking is more shrewdly modulated on the technical side as the proceedings aren't quite as viscerally jolting even if some scenes definitely aren't for the faint of heart. The squalid underbelly of a metropolis is on display gleaming in rich neon, blue hues, and shadows to let the onlooker become enraptured, at least initially, into a vividly saturated criminality. Aurally there is another distinctive eclectic soundtrack through the hypnotic electronic sounds provided by Cliff Martinez.
Refn's alternate sequences sometimes have a feverish stream-of-consciousness about them whether in a brothel or during torture as a rampaging, chased Julian is little more than a pretty face. A character than Gosling can't color or shade due mainly to the fact that the capable actor isn't challenged with the kind of narrative he's been accustomed to. If you must see Only God Forgives it's for a scene-stealing Scott-Thomas and an effortless sensory pull that just can't claim the same kind of dappling, vibrant empathy to strikingly drive it throughout.
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