‘Only God Forgives’ (2013), or ‘Grumpy Gosling Stare 4’.

3 Aug

Only God Forgives posterTell me, dear reader, do you recall that film in which Ryan Gosling spent the majority of his time wistfully staring into the distance, as if contemplating none other than life itself? If you’re a Gosling connoisseur then your answer should be a bewildered “which one!?”, for the charismatic actor we all knew and loved has seemingly been taken over by some sort of moody doppelgänger. He was a dour so-and-so in Drive, a sinister sergeant in Gangster Squad and a menacingly introverted crazy person in The Place Beyond the Pines; but Only God Forgives wins the prize for Broodiest Gosling Yet.

Only God Forgives reunites the star, director and composer of 2011’s strangely popular Drive. While that movie contained odd flashes of brilliance, it was in no way the objective masterpiece that many would seemingly have you believe. Thus the reconstructed amalgamation of Gosling, director Nicolas Winding Refn and sound guy Cliff Martinez is a shaky idea at best, but the results are surprising: not only is this movie  worse than their previous effort, it’s much, much worse.

Ryan Gosling runs a Muay Thai boxing gym in Bangkok, but it’s secretly a front for his drug peddling. His paedophile rapist murderer brother is a less-than-charming man played by Tom Burke who swiftly earns his comeuppance in the nastiest of ways. Upon learning of her eldest son’s death, their mother Kristin Scott Thomas flies over from the States to exact her revenge. The local masochist, who also happens to be a police chief, gets involved and limbs are severed, eyes are gauged and people gaze longingly more than they speak.

This is an art movie in the absolute worst sense of the term. People complain about avant-garde films being too oblique, obtuse, obnoxious and countless other adjectives beginning with ‘O’, but regardless of pretentiousness these movies generally have something to say. Buried deep within the compounded layers of cryptic symbolism, crazy colour filters and peculiar dialogue is some sort of point, some meaning, some lesson to be learned; be it a societal critique like Gummo or a genre satire like Blue Velvet, there’s usually some sort of delicious chocolate filling that requires a bit of chewing to reach.

Seriously, he makes this face in every damn scene he's in.

Seriously, he makes this face in every damn scene he’s in.

But Only God Forgives offers no reward for such digging. It’s as if everybody involved shared a copy of “How To Make Art Films for Dummies” and went to town. The film is very artfully lighted, and makes heavy use of red and purple filtering. Long shots force the camera to hover in the one spot for minutes at a time, and there are more intense ‘meaningful’ stares than actual lines of dialogue. Random karaoke, tacky wallpaper and general wacky surrealism are all textbook art movie tropes, yet it’s all handled with such a palpable lack of deftness that the experience is a mundane and confusing one.

The acting, oh lord the acting. The producers clearly leant Kristin Scott Thomas a few seasons of Jersey Shore and said “Be that!”; her general trashiness and the more than implied incest make hers a bizarre performance. As previously mentioned, Gosling is still in zombie mode, and it’s really starting to edge into self-parody at this stage. I miss the days of Crazy, Stupid Love and The Ides of March when he, you know, actually talked and acted.

Work went in to this thing, but there is absolutely no narrative mortar to hold the arthouse bricks together. As it stands, this movie feels like the sort of film David Lynch would make post-lobotomy.

Simon says: not even a supposed God could forgive this shit heap.

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