Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Only God Forgives

You'd be forgiven for expecting Drive 2: Bangkok Boogaloo. However, this is a very different beast from Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's previous collaboration.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a drug smuggler in Bangkok operating behind the veneer of a Thai boxing gym. As a result of his vile behaviour, scumbag brother Billy (Tom Burke) meets a grisly end. Julian accepts the consequences of his actions but their mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) seeks vengeance on corrupt cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

Sounds exciting, right? Alas, the film is painfully dull. It's all very attractive, mind. The beautifully-lit Thai locations are richly bathed in colour. Crisp neon hangs against endless deep reds. There's also great camera work involving some very sexy tracking shots. The entire piece is an exercise in stylish flourish but it’s seriously lacking in substance. The absence of a solid script makes the rudderless direction acutely self-conscious. This provides plenty of unintentional laughs. The supposedly profound comes across as plain silly.

An otherworldly atmosphere is achieved by the director but that spell is often broken by cringe-inducing lines of dialogue. For a film without a great deal of talking, much of the dialogue is fantastically klunky. In terms of writing, the director has gained more success through collaboration. (And Drive was scripted entirely by Hossein Amini, adapting from James Sallis’ book.) Here, Winding Refn takes a sole screenplay credit which, I believe, speaks volumes. The timing has a lot to be desired too and I don't think you can blame the editor. It actually feels like a first-time director finding their feet. As a result, I found the whole thing extremely daft and incredibly boring.

One of the few things the film shares in common with Drive is the bursts of eye-watering violence. Winding Refn executes these moments with proficiency and great relish. On more than one occasion this softy reviewer was struggling to keep his eyes on screen.

Kristin Scott Thomas does have a few good lines and, as a result, steals the show. It's an impressive performance as a very different kind of ice queen. A key issue is the Gosling role. I don't mind characters not having an arc but the problem with this protagonist is that you are offered scant reason for everything he does. As a result, the film’s message is very confused. 

In an industry of endless derivation I admire the director’s intention to create a different commodity. In that respect he has succeeded. Only God Forgives is unique in its peculiarity but it’s deeply flawed.

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