News for what very well might be my most anticipated movie of 2013 has been relatively slow over the last few months, but whenever a promotional move is made for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, you’ll be more than likely to find me drooling with uncontrollable excitement. It began with a bravado teaser poster and then, a couple of months back, a promising thirty seconds of the upcoming trailer; at long last, that upcoming trailer made its debut last week and those thirty seconds were expanded upon into a ninety second red-band teaser, and from what the nearly dialogue-free, nightmarish trailer displays, we’re in for quite a visceral ride with Only God Forgives.
We head into the scummy underworld of Bangkok, where Julian (Ryan Gosling) is currently doing his dealings in a Thai boxing club, which operates as a criminal front. He meets a surprise in the form of his mother, Jenna (Kristen Scott Thomas), who comes to Bangkok to tell Julian that his brother has been killed and she is thirsty for revenge. She forces Julian to seek out his brother’s killer, which leads him directly to The Angel of Vengeance (Vithaya Pansringarm), a retired police officer overtaken by corruption and a fondness for brutality and violence. Julian is put to the physical and mental test when pitted against the untouchable villain who he promises his mother he will kill. In the pursuit for vengeance, Julian will lose far more than he’s expecting.
As the July 19th release date approaches, this new red-band trailer gives us the first impression of what to really expect from Refn’s new film. The tone, violence, stylization, and character distinctions are all apparent in this relatively short teaser. More importantly, however, it does a terrific job of exciting viewers for what will unquestionably be the most harrowing film of the summer.
Watch the trailer here:
Why I’m Excited:
Refn + Gosling: I’m in the process of crafting an article about how Ryan Gosling and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) could be the new legendary director-actor pairing a la early Martin Scorsese and young Robert De Niro. As possible as that may be, the same argument could easily be made for Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling, potentially even more so. Refn, who directed the stellar Drive in 2011, popularized the ‘Gosling persona’ where the actor quietly broods and somehow manages to convey every possible emotion through a series of slightly different wide-eyed, intense stares. The Ides of March and The Place Beyond the Pines benefited from the Gosling persona, but Drive was where this kind of reserved presence began. Well known for The Notebook and Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gosling was pushed by Refn into a dangerous character territory reminiscent of his shocking Half Nelson performance – for which he was nominated for Best Actor – that proved he was one of the most versatile actors of the current generation. His explosion into super stardom has never dwindled as Gosling continues to nail every role tossed his way, and the character of Julian seems to be his most frightening character yet. Bringing back the facial appearance of his Dan Dunne from Half Nelson with maybe double or triple the sociopathic horror of his Driver from Drive, Julian is going to be an intriguing protagonist. From what this trailer teases, anti-hero may even be pushing it…Julian looks to be an evil and tortured man, wrought with psychological turmoil and constructed of unstoppable violence. That moment where he grabs the man’s upper jaw and drags him down a hallway already gives me a sickening chill. Benefitting from a no-holds-barred directorial approach from Refn, Only God Forgives is going to be a true experience that will forego all of my expectations. This will be an entirely different motion picture than Drive, but knowing that the Gosling and Refn pairing is so magical only amps up my excitement.
Tone: Obviously, Only God Forgives is going to be dark, but this trailer shows that just referring to it as ‘dark’ is going to be a little too mild. This movie is going to be a dirty and grainy punch in the face. When the promo poster was released a while back and all it showed was a beaten-to-a-pulp Ryan Gosling, that was all I needed to see in order to find out what direction Refn was going to carry this movie. With his ultra-stylized filmic nuances, Only God Forgives will definitely have the visual splendor that accompanies all of Refn’s films, but it seems that he has his eyes set on some very red settings, a dream-like presentation of time and space, as well as a fetishistic showcase of carnage. With Drive and even earlier films like Bronson and Pusher, Refn’s way of depicting violence was in horrific short spurts; Only God Forgives looks to be breaking that trend and will feature numerous hand to hand fight sequences – thankfully without the use of the shaky cam technique which has far outstayed its welcome – some traditional, grisly executions, shootouts, etc. Basically, there will be enough violence here to make Drive look tame, so if watching a man get his face completely broken in by the heel of a boot was enough to make you queasy, Only God Forgives may not be the film for you.
Oedipal Undertone?: I love me some Kristen Scott Thomas. The woman is a phenomenal actress who doesn’t get much mainstream love but she conquers every thing that she is offered and accepts. She looks fantastic here as the manipulative Jenna, she could prove to be the next great overbearing maternal figure. Oedipal undertones have created some of the most interesting mother-son bondings in film history and the trailer peeks at a relationship between Jenna and Julian that could fall somewhere in between Norma/Norman Bates and Raymond Shaw/Eleanor Shaw Iselin. Thomas’ voiceover that introduces the trailer is calmly forceful and the glimpses of her in character are absolutely radiating. I love the moment of her smoking the cigarette in the club with the cool blue wash spread over her. While Gosling may be the star – and looks like he may deliver an absurdly great performance – I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas took this movie and ran. Watch out.
Villainy: Newcomer Vithaya Pansringarm is touted as the film’s main antagonist, and while there’s no saying just how evil he will be in comparison to the morally fragmented Julian, at this point he looks downright terrifying. As Chang, aka The Angel of Vengeance, Pansringarm’s calm brood is a fine parallel to the Gosling persona (I’m claiming that description as a Murphy original) and his preference for sharp weapons is likely going to provide rivers of bloodshed. There are a few moments – his swinging the sword outdoors, the glimpse of that execution scene, pinning the helpless man to his seat with knives through his hands – that are most likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chang. I think Pansringarm will round out the magnificent trio alongside Gosling and Thomas and I’m looking forward to seeing the showdown between Chang and Julian that the trailer closes with.
Overall, this movie has most of the makings associated with a Park Chan-wook movie, but it is still indisputably a Nicolas Winding Refn picture. With Cliff Martinez on board as the film’s composer, I can’t think of anything else this movie is really missing.
So where do you stand? Will Only God Forgives be on your summer list of must-see’s? Are you getting tired of the Gosling persona? Did you like Drive, if not will you even seek out Only God Forgives?
Article by Mike Murphy