When you provide a Blu-Ray review for a film you’ve already theatrically reviewed, it presents the unique opportunity to embrace a more retrospective, analytical mindset. You know the story, you’ve seen how it ends, but now you’re given a chance to search for those little intricacies and juicy tidbits you might have missed on your first go around, piecing together the puzzle in a completely new light.
If any recent film deserves such a second chance, it’s Nicolas Winding Refn’s much debated thriller Only God Forgives, which got booed in Cannes, yet heralded by others. I, myself, positioned my stance right smack in the middle, acknowledging both the cinematic brilliance and tragic flaws that define such an ambitious, challenging piece of art. Gosling’s mute journey is beautifully mystifying and creatively frustrating, but approaching my home Blu-Ray viewing with an open mind and clearer expectations, was I struck by a revelation and joining those singing Refn’s praise? Or did a repeat viewing only highlight the negative.
Where do I stand now? Still in that f#cking confusing middle-ground type limbo.
I actually take that back to some degree, because I was noticeably more accepting and positively engaged by Refn’s minimalist storytelling this time around. Every scene is essentially shot to perfection through a sharp, defined, meticulously planned eye, creating these atmospheric pieces that could be hanging in a museum if still frames of scenes were plucked at random. Nicolas might remove almost all verbal dialogue from Gosling’s acting arsenal, but he instead plays with shadows, colors, and lighting filters to convey his main character’s emotions. In the most arthouse inspired filmmaking, Refn removes the normalcy of speech, but makes each line more poignant in the process. Looking at Only God Forgives on a completely aesthetic level, you can do nothing but marvel. I’ve said it before – Nicolas Winding Refn has an eye for creating unique, striking visuals unlike any director working in Hollywood today.
Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, and Kristin Scott Thomas are all responsible for helping Only God Forgives stay afloat as well, because each one delivers the strongest role possible by embracing defining characteristic traits. For example, while Julian is stripped of his voice, Kristin Scott Thomas sports a boisterously foul mouth that makes up for Gosling keeping his shut. In the same respect, Pansringarm’s “villain” character Chang clashes with Julian (Gosling), playing off of one man’s unbridled, unfocused aggression with a more vindictive, sinister, and concise form of violence. Looking solely at the crafted characters, their interactions display how well they fit as a cohesive group, each one highlighting flaws of another. They’re collectively engaging, interesting, and dementedly ridiculous – our cast gets gold stars.
Unfortunately, I still had many of the same problems with Only God Forgives in the story department, as its stripped, vulnerable nature didn’t play properly with the sporadic outbursts of violence and anger – but not so much the brutality. While Chang and Julian’s more bloody moments I thought were highlighted nicely by the filler lulls, moments where Gosling would let out a whaling screech became a tad bit comical instead of emotionally gripping. He goes entire scenes without saying a word, then is screaming and kicking? What should have been meaningful, revealing outbursts just didn’t work, much like how Julian’s thought process remains a complete mystery. Refn’s story becomes an example of something feebly crafted and lacking ground to stand on, yet every other aspect is so damn strong, there’s enough positive overflow to keep things steady(ish).
My mind has just been reduced to jelly trying to crack this nut again. If you want my really, really in depth analysis, check out my past review. Here’s the final conclusion I reached the first time around:
While Only God Forgives may be nothing but a looker, it’s definitely the [Insert Current Generation’s “It” Girl] of lookers.
Admittedly, I give it more credit now, but only marginally.
Looking at the Blu-Ray aspects, Only God Forgives was meant to be viewed in all of its transferred glory. Remember how I said no one can set a scene like Refn? Well, his gorgeous cinematics only look ten times better on your high powered home viewing system. With a film that’s so heavily reliant on every color jumping off the screen, you couldn’t ask for a better picture – accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s awesome, awesome, awesome soundtrack. I mean, I should have put about infinity more “awesomes” there, because if you’ve seen Drive, you know what Martinez is capable of, and because of his tight musical composition, the “Wanna fight?” scene becomes this chilling, intensely energetic showdown even though Ryan Gosling pretty much just gets his ass handed to him. Funny how perfect background music can turn a one-sided fight into an epic showdown, bumping through DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
- Audio Commentary with Nicolas Winding Refn
- Director Interviews (Talking About Thailand with Mark Dinning/Discussing Genre Films with Bruno Icher)
- Twelve Behind The Scenes Segments
- The Music of Only God Forgives with Cliff Martinez
- Two Free MP3 Files
Being such a big fan of Cliff Martinez, the two free MP3 files were enough to get me excited, with his interview type feature being nothing but icing on the cake. It’s interesting to see his approach and hear him talk about such a phenomenal soundtrack, and if I didn’t already own the songs, I’d have them to put on my iPod for constant listening capabilities.
Getting all the behind the scenes looks are also a must have for Nicolas Winding Refn fans, as anyone should want to see the process that takes place when such an artist works. I’m not saying he’s a mad genius, well, OK, maybe a little bit, but still, Nicolas has a very distinct style and it’s fun getting to see how such a product comes about. Each clip is no more than a few minutes, and even his interviews aren’t too long, so those with short attention spans will find the content just as exciting as hardcore Refn-heads.
So what did I learn from watching Only God Forgives a second time? Well, I’m still almost just as divided on this crazy bit of stylized brutality, but I still stand strong that everyone should see this movie once. I don’t care if you end up hating every single second – Nicolas Winding Refn creates movies that demand to be seen, studied and analyzed, with this crazy Taiwanese ride being no exception. At least you’ll be able to watch from the comfort of your own home, in perfect Blu-Ray quality.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
It's easy to see why some people find Only God Forgives so off-putting, but one can't deny what a beautiful piece of art Nicolas Winding Refn has created.