Monday, July 22, 2013
Only God Forgives: Drive, by way of Boredom
Sure, people bathed in neon light look really pretty, and Refn has never had a problem setting up innovative and exciting camera angles. But it all means nothing if the art-house style makes it difficult for a viewer to hold his/her attention. And that's precisely what happens here. There arn't really characters in Only God Forgives in the traditional sense: they're just cardboard cutouts walking to and fro the next or last blood shed. Ryan Gosling portrays Julian, a man running a boxing club as a front for a drug operation. When his brother gets murdered (deservedly so, I might add), he sort-of seeks revenge with his Queenpin mother (Kristin Scott Thomas, overacting) who has flown into town after she heard the news. But even these descriptions are giving the plot too much credit. These things are less figured out than just "sensed".
The villain role is played by Vithaya Pansringarm, portraying Lieutenant Chang, also known as the "Angel of Vengeance" (though that surely wasn't a fact that was retained in my mind). He's probably the most interesting character in the film, though that's not saying much--his facial expressions rarely change away from looking completely tranquilized. But he's super good at sticking sharp objects into people, particularly in one totally brutal scene which was cringe-inducing.
The problem here is so much wasted potential: we know that Refn can creature incredible cinema (Drive), and we know that he can make entertaining films that lack plot (Bronson). Here is a film that has a frustrating plot that simply lacks much entertainment value. Sure, you can praise his directing style: you can call it Lynchian, Kubrickian, or whatever compliment that you can think of. But it doesn't change the fact that a film has to keep you interested. Take Upstream Color, for instance. This 2013 experimental film was completely off the wall, lacking a conventional narrative structure. But it was still very transfixing, and it never made me feel like Only God Forgives made me feel: like I was on a dull acid trip that happened to have occasional flashes of ultra-violence. It's all set-up (sure, gorgeous and wonderfully-filmed set-up) with minimal payoff. (C-)