In May, controversial director Nicolas Winding Refn dropped his latest film, Only God Forgives, at Cannes...and got booed. I suppose I’d be pissed too if I had to take a 90 minute break from getting shit-housed at noon and motor boating Eastern European sleuths on my yacht. Despite all the bashing, a few weeks later, the same movie won the Grand Prize at the Sydney Film Festival.
It’s clear that the film is incredibly polarizing, like a modern day The Passion of The Christ, or whether it’s socially acceptable to masturbate in an airplane bathroom. Some see it as a piece of artless, classless pornography, while others believe that it's a work of profound vision and genius. Naturally, I needed to see what all the fuss was about. So, on Friday, I saw it. And it was both the best and worst movie I’ve ever seen. When I left the theater I was completely disoriented. What time is it? What day is it? What the fuck just happened? I went home, got naked, collapsed into the fetal position in my shower and cried myself to sleep.
What this movie about? Oh, just your run of the mill, ultraviolent tale of a man faced with avenging his child murderer/rapist brother by taking on the local god-like cop. Our protagonist, Julian (Ryan Gosling), is soon joined by his psychotic, bourgeoisie, drug-dealer mother, Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) and the mother son duo start a dick measuring contest with Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), said god cop, each party one-upping the other with incredibly fucked up ways to kill people.
I’ve never been so torn on a movie. On the one hand, it's aesthetically amazing, capturing the buzzing, glowing, neon underbelly of Bangkok. The score is pulsing and deep, somewhere between M83, Trent Reznor and Tears For Fears. The most notable piece of music being Cliff Martinez’s “Wanna Fight,” which blew all over my mind.
The film is a slow-paced, living, breathing, beast. Almost the entire film takes place at night, as the characters sneak between shadows, Illuminated by the reds and pinks and greens of the many street signs, brothels and restaurants. The diegetic world and dream sequences are intercut, often indecipherable from one another. Also, there is a sweet fucking sword.
It was like taking home a gorgeous Thai girl, only to take off her panties to find a big ol’ dick staring you right in the face.
On the other hand, there were a number of things that left me confused and turned off. For starters, the dialogue is incredibly stupid. Gosling somehow has even less lines than he did in Drive, with a grand total of—and I’m not making this up—SEVENTEEN. Although, fans of his perfect face will be pleased that he spend much more time “looking introspectively into the distance. All of the conversations felt unnaturally blunt and barbaric—gems like, “I love violence” and “wanna fight?” I guess the dialogue was supposed to be minimalist like an Ernest Hemmingway story, but at times felt like listening to the characters from Masters of The Universe.
Though, I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate the silence. The fact that the characters didn’t have to run their fucking mouths and state the obvious was a relief. I’m looking at you, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
I'd be remiss to mention all the family-friendly Oedipal stuff. In one memorable scene, Julian is introducing his prostitute girlfriend to his mother over dinner when Crystal spills the beans: “You know how boys are…you know with Billy being the older brother and having the bigger cock.” Thanks for nothing, Mom.
I won’t spoil the ending, but shit got weird...fast. Just straight up crazy balls out bonkers nonsensicals happening all over the goddamn place. It was sort of an unexpected and disappointing change from a promising-ish first two-thirds. It was like taking home a gorgeous Thai girl, only to take off her panties to find a big ol dick staring you right in the face.
In Nicolas Winding Refn’s defense, I will say that this movie took chances. Maybe not all of those chances were successful, but they were chances nonetheless. A movie like this is particularly refreshing in an industry run by money-fueled penguins as oppose to, I don't know, people who want to make good films. For that, I am thankful.
Four Pins Rating: 8/10 Thai Prostitutes
Matt Rimer is a writer living in Boston. Follow him on Twitter here.