Top 6 things we learnt from Only God Forgives
#6 – Interior decor does not a movie make
It’s a genuine shame that, amidst all the hype and colour, Refn forgot to write any of the characters properly. However, there’s no denying that the film looks stunning, all backlit Bangkok underworld, red bordello paper lamps and even redder inky filters. Occasionally, a gung-ho set designer can push it a little too far, and in the case of Only God Forgives, you find yourself more hypnotised by the ostentatious dragon wallpaper than whether the girl touching herself up is real, or a weirdly unsexy sex dream. Not since Lucky Number Slevin has wall covering stolen so much audience attention, though in this case we were wondering how we’d never noticed the ‘skag-addled brothel’ section of the Ikea catalogue.
#5 – Ryan Gosling needs a punch in the face
Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of Gosling. In fact, I like a bit of Gosling so much that, despite me typically holding more leftfield crushes (hi there Walken), I can still find myself getting actively distracted by how much I want to get under that. Sure, he’s busy having his arm stroked by his creepy mum or committing deadpan acts of ultra-violence, but that pretty face of his is filling my head with thoughts of being taken for a picnic or whatnot. Hey girl.
There’s a direct correlation between a character becoming a total mess, and me crushing on them (see bearded, drug-dependent Noah Wyle in early-season ER, or semi-bearded, drug-dependent Gosling in Half Nelson). Thankfully, the car crash Chang makes of Gosling’s pretty boy visage pushes us through to the other side of this phenomenon, and not a second too soon. His face is still mesmerising, but for all the wrong reasons. Distraction removed.
(Side note, the scopophilia is occasionally suspended when anyone mentions his name. No woman with a scrap of self worth can get a ladyboner over a character called Julian.)
#4 – If you shut your eyes, you’re cheating
Nicolas Winding Refn is a masochist, and he’s daring you to flinch. He’s the same gross kid that shows you the half-chewed food in his mouth in the lunch hall, except this time with a movie camera and a banging budget. We’ll never forget a certain Refn-directed head-stamping scene, but at least in Drive the real gore was tinged with a sad humanity (Bryan Cranston’s demise a prime example). In Only God Forgives, the violence escalates with such a smooth upward momentum that you’re left expecting it. The last time I felt so tempted to close my eyes was when Park Chan Wook gave us all a taste of a claw hammer. The difference is, he also gave us a protagonist we could get behind. Squirming in your seat is exactly what Refn wants, but closing your eyes just lets him win.
#3 – In Bangkok, it’s always night time
When do these people sleep? When do they do their weekly food shop? Do they possess incredible cat-like eyesight from only prowling about in the dark? How do they get enough Vitamin D? The questions are endless.
#2 – Nicolas Winding Refn has mummy issues
I’m not one to badmouth anyone’s mum, but I’m wondering what kind of venomous terrorhawk inspired this hard-as-nails hellcat. Whatever Refn’s real mum is like, she gets thanked in the credits, and you can’t help but question whether it’s because he was too scared not to. None of the women in Only God Forgives get a particularly easy ride, but Julian’s mother is enough to make the balls of the strongest men jump right up inside them. She doesn’t get her hands dirty, and she’d be somehow less unnerving if she did, instead directing the deadly action from her penthouse watchtower. Gifted with the film’s best lines (though without much competition), she gives us the most awkward family dinner scene in recent movie history. As paralysing as Norma Bates, and with fewer social skills than Lucille Bluth, this is one sour matriarch you don’t want to take a girl home to. Which leads us to the last lesson..
#1 – Kristin Scott Thomas is a total powerhouse
From the moment professional fop Hugh Grant picked the insufferable Andie McDowell over lovely, catty, chain smoking Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral, we’ve been in Kristin Scott Thomas’s corner. She’s carved an enjoyable career out of being classy and watchable, but that doesn’t stop her turn in Only God Forgives being somewhat of a revelation. Cast when her character was British, her subsequent change of nationality (when Gosling got on board) seems to have pushed her way out of her comfort zone, and she’s all the better for it. She’s what makes Crystal so enthralling, and we can only hope this signals the start of a riskier, more exciting chapter in her career.