Sunday, July 28, 2013
Only God Forgives
Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives is the story about a man who is asked by his mother to find the man who had just killed his older brother in Bangkok. The film is an exploration into the world of vengeance as well as the complex relationship between brothers and their mother as well as the sins they created as a cop determines their fate. Starring Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Only God Forgives is an entrancing yet unsettling film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
The film is a revenge tale of sorts in which a young drug smuggler/Thai boxing gym owner who deals with the death of his older brother in Bangkok as he learned about what his brother did. When their mother arrives to Bangkok seeking vengeance, complication ensues involving a cop who deals matters in his way prompting this young man to confront him. It’s a film that explores the sins of a family as one realizes what his older brother has done to cause all of this trouble while their mother wants vengeance at the worst possible way. Notably as it would explore this very troubled relationship between mother and son as it is implied that this young man’s mother seemed to favor his older brother more than him in very strange ways.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot nor a lot of dialogue as it’s mostly this exploration of a man dealing with the consequences of his brother’s actions. Julian (Ryan Gosling) is just a drug smuggler who wants to run a Thai boxing gym as he’s grown to be disconnected from his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) while his older brother Billy (Tom Burke) visits. Billy’s actions involving a minor would lead to his death as Julian would want vengeance first only to learn what his brother did. For Crystal, that’s doesn’t matter as she wants to go after this cop named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who is called an Angel of Vengeance and is someone that can’t be trifled with no matter what Crystal thinks. The screenplay is mostly filled with non-dialogue scenes while some of the dialogue is very stylized including some of the things that Crystal says that is definitely shocking as she’s easily one of the most terrifying characters in film.
Winding Refn’s direction is definitely a marvel to look at with its very steady yet precise approach to framing as well as the atmosphere that he brings to the scene. The direction is filled with lots of still and steady tracking shot with not a lot of shaky hand-held work in order to maintain something that is eerie and disconcerting. Notably as it plays to elements of surrealism where it’s not very clear that some of the things that Julian is seeing seems real or is he just dreaming about the sense of darkness that is emerging around him. Though this approach to framing and the direction can get overwhelming as well as be pretentious at times. It does establish this world that is Bangkok where this American expatriate is trying to run from whatever demons he’s carrying upon realizing that his brother’s sins are coming to get him.
The direction is also filled with these very extreme yet unsettling approach to violence where a lot of it is very brutal in not just the way people are killed but also in the way Chang does business. Yet, Chang is a man of honor as he kills or maims someone with a sword as he’s someone that can’t be stopped. It’s something that Julian is aware of as he does confront him in a climatic fight scene where the result would prove to be far more troubling. Even as it relates to the sins that Julian’s family have put upon him where it is his decision to accept his failings or to deny them. Overall, Winding Refn creates a very mesmerizing yet chilling film about vengeance and sin.
Cinematographer Larry Smith does exquisite work with the film‘s very stylized yet evocative cinematography with the use of lights for many of the film‘s interiors in its nightclubs and bars that has this beauty mixed in with violence in its coloring while some of its daytime exterior and interior scenes rely less on stylized lights. Editor Matthew Newman does superb work with the editing as it‘s very restrained and methodical without going into fast cutting while taking its time to play out some of the film‘s violent moments. Production designer Beth Mickle, along with art directors Russell Barnes and Witoon “Boom” Suanyai, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the clubs and bars the characters frequent to as well as the hotel suite that Crystal lives in.
Costume designer Wasitchaya “Nampeung” Mochankul does fantastic work with the costumes in the dresses that the women wear including Crystal as well as the more casual clothing of the men. Visual effects supervisor Martin Madsen does nice work with the film‘s minimal visual effects that mostly involve some of the film‘s violent moments. Sound designers Kristian Eidnes Andersen and Eddie Simonsen do brilliant work with the sound to play up that sense of chilling atmosphere in some of the locations including the intimacy that occurs in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments. The film’s music by Cliff Martinez is incredible for its very brooding score that is filled with these ominous electronic arrangements as well as lush string orchestral backgrounds that includes some additional contributions from Mac Quayle and Gregory Tripi including a few Asian pop songs in the soundtrack.
The casting by Des Hamilton and Raweeporn “Non” Srimonju is excellent for the ensemble that is featured as it includes some notable small performances from Gordon Brown as a lieutenant of Julian’s, Byron Gibson as a drug dealer who is hired by Crystal to put a hit on Chang, Kovit Wattanakul as a man who was involved in Billy’s death, Tom Burke as Julian’s older brother Billy, and Rhatha Phongam as a prostitute named Mai who accompanies Julian to dinner with his mother in a very unsettling scene. Vithaya Pansringarm is great as the man Chang as a man who is just this full-on badass that is all about doing what is right as he is certainly a man not to be fucked with as well as proving himself to be a very formidable interrogator and killer.
Kristin Scott Thomas is phenomenal as Crystal as a woman who is this mob leader that is truly one of the most evil bitches to walk on the face of the Earth with her very snide and obscene comments to the things she wants as it’s definitely one of her finest performances. Ryan Gosling is superb as Julian as a man dealing with the sins of his brother as it’s a mostly restrained performance from Gosling while some of his violent moments showcase a man troubled by what’s happening to him as it’s a very intoxicating performance to watch.
Only God Forgives is a remarkable film from Nicolas Winding Refn that features brilliant performances from Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringram, and Kristin Scott Thomas. While it’s a very stylized yet intense film that explores vengeance and a man dealing with the sins of his family. It’s also a film that explores the sense of fear as well as humanity at its worst where two men come face-to-face over these sins. In the end, Only God Forgives is a tremendous film from Nicolas Winding Refn.
Nicolas Winding Refn Films: Pusher - Bleeder - Fear X - Pusher II - Pusher 3 - Bronson - Valhalla Rising - Drive - The Neon Demon - The Auteurs #12: Nicolas Winding Refn
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