Have you ever seen a movie and tried to explain it to someone but couldn’t? Not that you didn’t know what it was about, nor was it confusing or even bad. It may have very well been brilliant. Yet you just couldn’t seem to get the idea of it across. Here enters Nicolas Winding Refn. I recently watched the director’s newest film Only God Forgives, which happens to be one of those types of movies and thought I’d share some of his work.
The Denmark native and director presents a different type of quality in his pictures. Perhaps his breakout film Bronson (2008), featuring more recent upstart Tom Hardy is a good glimpse at the bizarre and somewhat crazed nature of the average movie he writes and/or directs. It wasn’t until his most recent film Only God Forgives, that I have realized his brilliance. I have had a chance to watch several of the man’s films some of which I will present in a moment. However, Only God Forgives is one of those types of movies that are hard to get across to some bystander. The other two movies of his which I have had the pleasure of seeing, Valhalla Rising (2009) and Drive (2011) bare the same theme. With a quick thought, I would most likely put the categories of all three films within the “Revenge” genre. Don’t let that turn you off! Yes, they do tend to be violent, as a matter of fact each one features at least one head bashing but that is not the bottom line. In fact there is an undertone in each film that really leaves you feeling like you’ve somehow been educated. Also, whether one would wish to admit it or not I think each main character is cleverly relatable. This is done in an odd way, as another commonality of the three films is that they have a very small amount of dialogue from each main character as compared to most films. Thus being the case, the acting is done with extreme emotional exertion with high caliber actors, whom from my position should be at the top of any fan of film’s a-list.
Valhalla Rising features the always-wonderful Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal & Casino Royal) who plays One Eye, a total badass who escapes captivity from a Norse tribe. He has been held captive for years, ergo revenge plays a vital role yet the emotion is purposefully emotionless. It takes a very skillful actor to pull off. One Eye and his child companion meet up with a group of Christians who wish to go to Jerusalem to embark on a Crusade implementing a religious element that stays through the entire film. They set sail and that’s when all sorts of trouble starts happening. This film is totally mental. It explores life, death, religion, and war. It is quite possible that you’ll hate it if you aren’t ready for it but this could be said for any of Refn’s films. I think some could mistakes the many scenes that improve on the important vacantness and intrigue of the film as dull or boring. I would give the film a 7.5/10 and it is on Netflix so if you get a chance watch it for yourself.
Drive won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for an Oscar. This is Refn’s first partnership with the ever-popular Ryan Gosling as his main character. Here Ryan Gosling portrays the character of a seemingly tormented getaway driver and stuntman who becomes even more tormented after some new friends fall into trouble with some gangster/mafia types. This is some of the best acting I’ve seen from Gosling and the way Refn presents everything and with minuscule dialogue is brilliant. Everything is laid bare as this unique thriller cis unmistakably clear while leaving more mystery than there are answers. They never even give the main character a name. Crazy talk? No, you’ve got to see it for yourself. I give it an 8.5/10 and an extra .5 for a solid soundtrack, giving the film a total of 9/10. As an added bonus it is also on Netflix. Drop what you’re doing and go watch it now.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s most recent film Only God Forgives was unfortunately very limited release in theaters. It came out at the end of July this year. The story takes place in Bangkok, Thailand where once again Ryan Gosling is at the helm. He plays Julian, the head of a drug smuggling ring with his brother and apparently part of a crime family. Julian is after whomever killed his brother but he shows this sense of morality that shouldn’t correlate. Vithaya Pansringarm plays Detective Chang, who actually steals the show from Gosling. It becomes this type of vigilante vs. bad guy plot but without the rationalization of any denied legal justice. In other words no type of law exists in the film at all so vigilante may not be a correct term. This is an interesting way to view a cop and even though it isn’t necessarily “new” I would still say it is plausibly an effective and frank way of portraying Bangkok. The two main characters’ actions are in contrast to what their positions should typically dictate. I would say that there are legitimately no “good guys” in this film so you’ll be cheering on a villain either way. There is also the creepy drug lord mother. She brings with her an overly sexualized theme to the movie. This compels the idea that Julian has some deep seeded emotional problems from being raised by such a person. There are other sexualized portions of the movie but they fit in well with the setting and Refn keeps it classy with no nudity. This movie is horrifyingly brilliant but the brilliance happens at a dreadfully slow pace. This is what is needed for the characterization to take place though. The emotional contrasts in this movie are crazy. It left me on the edge of my seat and almost begging for it to stop at the same time. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I would still recommend it. 8/10.
Refn creates extremely aesthetic but violent work. Each film is a weird experience to say the least but I look forward to watching more of his movies in the future. With an average score of 8.2 I would recommend these three movies to almost anyone. Even to someone who may not like the film it provides an interesting experience that you won’t get from most blockbuster films these days.
If you enjoy any of Refn’s movies you might also enjoy: