Only God Forgives Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn (screenplay) Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and Tom Burke
Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to my favorite film of 2011, Drive, will manage to kill whatever good mood you have that day. This time around, rather than sunny California, Winding Refn takes us to what I can only assume is Hell’s Indochinese district. Only one thing happens here: abuse.
The movie starts with Muay Thai boxers trading blows, and it’s the most civil interaction you’ll see from here on out. From a stadium seat view, we descend slowly, with all wrapped in an orange glow. Julian (Ryan Gosling) sits in the stands, his expression impenetrable. He exchanges a nod from behind the caged bleachers to the only other white men in the gym. They’re down on the floor, likely exchanging some drugs. Either way this is more than a gym. Suddenly we see hands slowly closing to fists, then Julian revealed only by gold bands of light striped across his face. His brother Billy, drunk, bathed in bands of red light, asks if Julian is ready to meet the Devil.
I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it. The first Tarantino movie I’d ever seen was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which is a decidedly gorier and altogether more accessible movie for an eighth grader (technically I wasn’t legally “mature enough” for either by the MPAA’s standards), although I was the only one in my grade who seemed to enjoy it. When I watched Pulp Fiction for a second (and a third and a fourth ad infinitum) viewing, it gripped me like few other movies had before or since. To this day it is still one of my all-time favorites.
Movies, especially great ones, often change from viewing to viewing, not because they are different but because we are. Though we now live in an age of Rotten Tomato blurbs and aggregated consensus, a critic’s most valued possession is still their written voice. With every review now posted quickly and then archived online, conversation on most movies usually peaks quickly when they are first released, and then dissipates just as fast. The only time afforded to looking back is the annual “Best of the Year” cluster fuck.