Only God Forgives Movie Review 0 111

Only God Forgives movie review
Even though he had already been making movies for 15 years, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn became a known name in 2011 when he took the international film world by storm with his ultra-violent crime drama Drive, making an icon of its central muted character known only as the “Driver” (played in restrained form by Ryan Gosling), synth soundtrack and ultra-cool style.
You could be forgiven, then, to expect Refn just to repeat what he did with Drive for his next film, to take the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach that would surely draw in fans of one of the 21st century’s coolest films. But the brilliance of Only God Forgives is how it constantly subverts what’s expected of it, taking the “Drive-isms” – vibrant colours, moody characters, ultra-violence – and twisting away from them at every turn. For every vibrant bout of violence there are moments that evoke David Lynch’s Club Silencio from Mulholland Drive or the crazy, depraved world of Alejandro Jodorowsky whom the film is dedicated to.
The plot, such as it is, centres on Julian (Gosling), a drug smuggler who has made a fortune in the seedy Thai underworld. Operations are interrupted when his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered as a result of him killing an underage prostitute and Julian is then tasked by his controlling mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to find and kill the one responsible.
Only God Forgives is less about plot, certainly far less than most mainstream audiences would like, and more about mood and atmosphere. Refn creates one of terrifying menace and foreboding through a deliberate pace, pulsating soundtrack (Drive’s Cliff Martinez astonishing once more) and carefully constructed camerawork that puts the viewer in a dreamlike world that seems stuck in a time all its own, lit up like a neon Christmas tree in an otherwise darkened room.
Gosling is the star atop that tree, re-teaming with Refn in what will hopefully be a long-standing collaboration, but the director has put the figurative tape over his mouth for the most part. Much like the Driver, Julian and in fact most of the characters don’t say much and only when they have to, whether threatening someone for information, berating their offspring for not doing what they were told – Scott Thomas is clearly having a ball as the overbearing, foul-mouthed mother swooping down into her remaining son’s life and giving orders – or literally asking for a beating. “Wanna fight?” Julian asks Chang, a retired sword-wielding cop brought in to take care of things (played with silent menace by Vithaya Pansringarm), essentially the passer and bringer of judgement in Refn’s violent tale of revenge.
Refn punctuates the film with moments of extreme violence that are uncomfortable to watch, though Drive often tops it in terms of graphicness – perhaps it’s another case of a film feeling more violent than it actually is because of its oppressive atmosphere. In any case the film is an often masterfully meticulous example of cinematic craftsmanship, clearly made by a director who knows what he wants out of a film and takes however long he needs to achieve it, even if that means sacrificing a faster pace or eventfulness that many will come expecting, not least because it’s been sold as more of the action film that it definitely isn’t.
Only God Forgives seems a film designed to be either loved or hated. Many will take against the seemingly empty violence, the lack of a substantial plot or the cold, distant way it presents itself (some initial reactions at Cannes were vitriolic to say the least), not to mention being confounded by the prominent appearance of karaoke. Is it self-indulgent and pretentious? Arguably. But for me it’s also one of the boldest and best films of the year. A mesmerising, haunting piece of filmmaking that has a clear voice (even if its characters don’t seem to have much of one) and a distinctive style that if you allow it to soak into your psyche it will stay with you, like it or not, long after the credits roll.

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Only God Forgives is released in UK cinemas on August 2nd.
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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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