Forget that Only God Forgives caused several critics to boo and walk out at Cannes; forget that director Nicolas Winding Refn made an instant enemy of David Cameron by describing himself as a ‘pornographer’ in an interview with the Guardian. Possibly the greatest thing about it, other than the film itself, is the fact that it stars Ryan Gosling, a favourite of the celebrity pap rags, whose readers will more than likely find their tiny little minds scrambled should they find a screening at their local multiplex.
Many may go wanting to see Gosling and Refn deliver Drive 2, others will buy a ticket in the simple hope that Gosling takes his top off to reveal that oh so buff bod. When what what is presented gives them neither, crushing disappointment will swiftly transmute into frustration and loathing. While both films share the same director and star, the only thing that Drive and Only God Forgives share is a revenge motive. The latter eschews the conventional three act structure, meaning that those who only dine on Hollywood’s mainstream narrative cinema will find it inscrutable. And in a commercial world that only understands good and evil, left and right, black and white and nothing in between, inscrutable will always be written off as failure.
Which is a dreadful shame, but not surprising in an age of cultivated ignorance. Only God Forgives is not a complex film, nor does it try to be. The Oedipal mother/son relationship, its key element, is made so obvious there are even several lines of dialogue that make it clear Refn is referencing Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. Ask the average person on the street about the Oedipal complex, though, and they’ll probably look at you like you’ve just asked to fiddle with their kids.
So instead of a review, consider this an appeal to readers of the Daily Mail, OK!, TMZ and the rest to stay away. You’ll be devastated that Gosling isn’t really the star here – that honour belongs to Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, who plays the most haunting angel of death since Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. On a superficial level you might appreciate the aesthetic of Larry Smith’s cinematography and the perfection with which Refn fills the frame, but because this is such a static film, with many characters either sitting or standing in a series of intercut tableux, over an hour and a half your damaged attention span will cause severe boredom. Having been conditioned to expect some good old crashbangwallop in the first five minutes of every major release, this is an inescapable inevitability.
If this sounds like the voice of a cultured elite talking down to the heathen beneath it, please do not be mistaken. There’ll be just as many readers of broadsheet newspapers and Radio 4 listeners, similarly tempted by the (media-generated) hype of the Gosling/Refn combo, who can only interpret what they see on screen literally and write Only God Forgives off as “art for art’s sake”, “deliberately impenetrable”, “pretentious” and “a pile of shit” (all genuine comments). That’s okay, of course. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you…
Only God Forgives is out in cinemas on Friday 2nd August