Cannes Film Festival – Official Competition
Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” was mediocre genre revisionism. His latest film, “Only God Forgives,” is an attempt at surrealist action that borders on the experimental. On principle, I’d like to say I preferred the latter since it was at least ambitious.
However, after a second watch from the comforts of my own bed (the first, a late-night screening in Cannes, put me to sleep for large chunks), I really cannot bring myself to endorse “Only God Forgives.” It aims for David Lynch or Alexander Jodorowsky, the great surrealist filmmaker to whom the film is dedicated, but falls far short of the mark. Teasing at a dreamlike experience is not enough – the film must deliver, and it cannot execute on its promise.
Refn’s film lacks any internal logic, bizarrely floating through non-related scenes of a sadistic Thai police officer and Ryan Gosling’s stoically mute Julian. All great actors run the risk of turning themselves into a cliché (see: Johnny Depp), and I’m sorry to report that we may have reached a tipping point with Gosling. He’s so frustratingly not a presence in the film that it does not play as tough anymore; it’s just plain obnoxious.
Thankfully, the film does deploy Kristin Scott Thomas to talk enough for the both of them. As a psychotic mother, perhaps a physical embodiment of Oedipal desire, she’s a firecracker who adds a jolt of energy every time she comes on screen. Sadly, that’s only a few scenes.
Unlike a “Blue Velvet” or “Mulholland Drive,” there’s no sense that Refn has any overarching purpose or meaning that can eventually be gleaned. It’s just weird for the sake of being weird, almost to the point of laziness. His stilted editing rhythms of “Only God Forgives” do a disservice to the hallucinatory neon-soaked cinematography, jolting us out of the action and reminds us of the (poorly) constructed nature of the film.
What could have been a film descending into hell with its characters ends up reproducing hell for its audience, who is left fruitlessly dumfounded by this mess of a movie. With no discernible story and only a surface-level exploration of themes of revenge, the film feels worthwhile only for another spellbinding Cliff Martinez score and a few mesmerizing images. The writer/director called himself a “pornographer of violence” when making this film, and that’s all “Only God Forgives” amounts to: a fetish meant only to please Refn and a few others who share his bizarre – and borderline irresponsible – penchant. C /