#86 Only God Forgives (2013) Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn has become one of my favourite contemporary filmmakers over the past few years. I made a point of immersing myself in his back catalogue during the months leading up to the release of Drive in 2011 and I haven’t looked back since. As it was for many movie-goers, Drive was my favourite movie of that year and Refn’s films before that, while not quite flawless and amazing, all struck a very potent nerve with me. There’s something about Refn’s style that I really relate to. It’s an abstract, uncompromising and sometimes frustrating style which can often work against his material but the way he sees things, the way he interprets imagery and conveys certain things visually I just get. This isn’t me saying I’m capable of understanding Refn’s work more than someone who isn’t as big a fan as me, nor am I saying I’m more qualified to appreciate the man’s work, I flag this up because I think it’s important to show that I am a fan, and with fandom comes bias and sympathy and it’s why I may be quick to defend his films. Now, while Drive is easily Refn’s finest work, it’s also his most conventional. The great trick of that movie was how they took a pulpy, gritty little neo-noir tale and instilled it with a slick art-house pulse. I’m sure many expected the same from this film but instead they got Refn back to his old tricks, tricks which many people may not be familiar with or prepared for. I imagine most people have only encountered Refn through Drive and also Bronson and those two films set up a certain type of expectation which Only God Forgives can only combat against. This is much more in tune with Valhalla Rising, his ultra-arty, ultra-violent, abstract and uncompromising sci-fi viking movie. I hated that movie the first time I saw it but second time I absolutely flipped out over it. The great thing about that film also Only God Forgives is how stubborn and totally committed they are to their aesthetic and themes. A lot of critics and bloggers have scoffed at Only God Forgives for it’s pretensions, the lack of dialogue, it’s abundance of style and violence and accused it for amounting to a whole lot of nothing, but this assessment is wrong. The trick is to not be afraid to take that style at face value, it isn’t meant to be subtle. Let yourself be beaten over the head. Let yourself go down the rabbit hole and drop into the fever dream. Once you scratch a little bit beneath the surface you’ll find a film full of forbidden pleasures. This isn’t a thai boxing movie, it’s a horror movie. It’s a neon-tinged neo-noir with movie monsters dressed in human skin and clothing. There are no people in this film, only mythical figures. The film is about nothing at all but rather a beautiful dissection of violence and violent people. This is simple, visual and idea-fuelled cinema at it’s purest. I don’t want to convince people that it’s some kind of misunderstood masterpiece because it isn’t. It is misunderstood, but it’s flawed and messy but seems like it’s supposed to be. It’s impulsive, tight-fisted filmmaking, stubborn and drawn from the gut. There’s nothing in this film but strong ideas and they’re delivered with a cocky swagger that is at times quite scary and also embarrassing but it never fails. Only God Forgives is a film with sheer, undiluted vision and a belief in itself and for that reason I think it’s one of the best movies of the year. I loved the trip and it’s one I’d take again right now.