Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn
It's not that we didn't get the film - we did.
It's an arthouse film, and to be quite frank, it should have stayed that way. NWR's Drive was a brutal, but visual masterpiece. This follows suit, at least some of the way.
This is the second Gosling based film that I have to write this about; it's not an easy going film.
Be warned - watching this film is, at times, like having your soul ripped out and trodden over.
It's visual, hyper-violence loving porn.
It's a film that is a meditation and study in patience and the attention spans of your audience. The film's real major let down is the amount of attempted metaphors, allegories and motifs that are shoved into it. Independent films where nothing much happens, but everything that does happen is basically suicidally violent for an actor/actress are nothing new. They're old fare - and it's partly this that dredges the film down. Throughout the film, for the keen eyed fans, you'll be able to see (and feel) the influence of multiple generations of directors pressing in on this film. It's not so much a unique NWR film - it's a film that has NWR's touch on it, much like Pacific Rim with Guillermo, but is more like an homage than a film that will stand on it's own two feet.
It's a violent film that at it's core is about anti-revenge. It's this weird approach that loses half the audience right out of the gate.
What did you really expect from a film that got booed at Cannes and had audiences leaving their seats in droves?
The story is centred around the underworld in Bangkok, in which Julian (Gosling) is a part of. When a set of tragic events force his hand - and his shrill and woeful mother in the form of Kristin Scott Thomas to come visit him - the film descends into what can only be politely referred to as 'hell'. This 'hell' is curated by Chang (Pansringarm) - a vicious and cruel police officer who will stop at nothing.
Credit must go to Gosling, whose patented soul-gazing empty stare works well for this type of film. It plays perfectly along with the chilling slowness of proceedings, in fact. The production design as well as the choreography are absolutely astounding. For those who don't engage with the movie, it may look like that he simply doesn't care - but once you get to the core of the film, his looks and stances will give so much away.
It's a film where every act of violence symbolises something and isn't just used as a throwaway. Where every turn, every shot and every line/piece of music is meticolously calculated to death - just watch the attention to detail and design in the restaurant scene.
However, it is this over the top, high brow run of 'big art' metaphors, coupled with a genre that has, on so many occassions, churned out films that failed to capture the engagement of their audiences - lead to it's eventual downfall.
The '5' we gave it was for the effort and care expended in the production - it's a shame that the end result falls short of anything too engaging.
It's a visually tremendous feat of movie-making. One, that if you can stomach it well, will leave you feeling filled with an eerie dread and an incredible unease. The haunting and droning score will almost condition your responses, if you follow the film closely. Understand where it's going - it'll leave you feeling out of place and out of time - the electronic and synthetic sounds will bore into your idle brain.
It's incredibly visually stylish - one movie in which there are sparse lines of dialogue, but the storytelling is going the truest form of "show, don't tell". It's a film that will make you question your own instincts with it's particularly twisted brand of comedy, nauseatingly beautiful set pieces and lighting that will leave you dazed for weeks to come. (Ferenc's Note: The lighting design in this film was like a hyper version of the scheme used in Trance - it looked utterly fantastic.)
But when every layer and image is a metaphor, not only does it feel like the audience lose the plot, but that the director has as well. There's no real emotional impact and no character development to speak of. It's supposedly about a man who wanted to fight God - hence the title. But unfortunately, this hardly comes through in the layers of allegories that Refn stacks on top of each other.
The violence is staggeringly poignant, beautiful and equal parts brutal. But don't let it fool you - it's not what is driving this vehicle forward. Understanding Julian, how he deals with loss and tragedy, is critical to understanding the rest of the film. Whether you want to or not is the perennial question, though.
It's not a film that will rank with the best of NWR's best work - but it's definitely going to be one of the most memorable.
What the Mr. Thought:
I would purely recommend not seeing this film because during any attempt to decipher it, you'll always have a decently large crowd of people around my age, who will come in, expecting a film that's somewhat like Drive but more actionable, and laugh at all the inapproriate moments. Arthouse films stayed in arthouses for this exact reason - people would only see them if they were interested in the genre.
For fans of this genre, of NWR's other work - I would highly recommend this film. You will definitely not be disappointed. But for the general moviegoing public, I'd recommend skipping this - unless you want to sleep uneasy tonight.
What the Misses Thought:
I can't say I outright enjoyed this film. It was violent..and the Mr warned me of that, I ignored this warning and watched the film with him and now part of me wishes I hadn't.
However, and that is a big however, the beauty of the film is in its meaning, metaphors and it's just stunning setup. I can appreciate it from a creative point of view, but that is all - the rest doesn't sit easily with me.
But you didn't hear that from us,
The Mr. and the Misses