Drive

July 20, 2013

Only God Forgives (DJ’s Take)

BLANK

All my cards on the table.  I love the film Drive.  I own the dvd, I own the soundtrack, I own the poster, and to be honest, I was a second thought away from owning that satin scorpion racing jacket.  I get really frustrated when the now overly cynical, “If something is trying to be cool I’ll automatically hate it” film critic says they despise Drive.  It is a perfect example of minimalism done right.  Minimalism used in an action/drama film that made it into something fresh and different.  So, when I heard that star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn were teaming up again, I was excited.  However, after watching their new film Only God Forgives, I have to say that this is an example of minimalism done wrong.  When word got out of audience members booing and walking out of the premier at Cannes, I was very puzzled.  I can always understand not liking a film afterwards, but booing and walking out during, baffles me.  What could be so bad?  Well, within the first ten minutes there are certainly reasons to warrant a conservative audience uprising.  As a whole, the film has subject matter offensive and violent enough to have me second guess the rating.  However, the film’s biggest crime for me was the emptiness of it.  Only God Forgives provides little in the way of plot and character development.  And the crime is, that it is set up to give you so much more.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking.  How could you criticize Only God Forgives for using a style that Drive also uses?  Well, Drive was originally intended to be another cliched action vehicle much like The Transporter.  There was nothing really there originally that we hadn’t seen already in regards to the story and characters.  A mysterious rebel who wants to do good but is pulled back into a life of crime to protect the woman he loves.  Winding Refn’s decision to pull back on the cliche and make Drive more dramatic and serious and realistic separates it from the rest in the genre.  Only God Forgives, on the other hand, is not a traditional action/drama set up.  Yes, you could say there is a revenge angle going on.  However, the setting of the film, the symbolism of the film, and the creepy family dynamic of the film are all begging to be explored.  It really isn’t.  In Drive, despite Gosling’s man of few words gimmick, the supporting characters give you something to chew on.  Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, and the amazing Albert Brooks fill in the gaps the film’s stoic hero leaves.  In Only God Forgives, we are left with only one character that does that.  The deplorably offensive Crystal, played to perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Unfortunately, she can only fill so many BLANK spaces before you’re left wanting.  In Drive, the BLANKS were there but in fewer frequency.  When they did show up, because it was material you were familiar with, your imagination could fill them in.  So, an uncomfortably sweet conversation in the hallway with Gosling and Carey Mulligan isn’t as jarring.  The world of Only God Forgives is very unfamiliar.  The characters are very unfamiliar.  The situations are very unfamiliar.  So, when you’re searching for the motivations and thoughts of a character, you’re just left with a BLANK.

If you think Gosling’s Driver said and expressed little in Drive, just wait until you see Only God Forgives.  Julian Thompson feels like a stranger to us throughout.  Gosling’s perpetual sphinx-like expression hurts the character more than adds to his mystery.  One could assume this was done to heighten the effect of Julian’s later emotional outbursts as was done in Drive.  However, Winding Refn’s stripping down of his personality and emotion seems to have passed the breaking point.  Though it may be the dialogue fiend in me, but he just seemed like a character that would be better suited talking a good game.  He’s a fight promoter for crying out loud!  I personally think Gosling is a very good actor and when given more things to do emotionally and expressively, he usually knocks it out of the park.  He’s grasping at straws here.  The…um…villain I guess (He’s more reactionary if you think about it.  And God himself if you REALLY think about it.), played by Vithaya Pansringarm, is another great character with sadly minimized background.  It works more for him seeing as the mysterious villain is a familiar concept.  However, when the protagonist and antagonist of your story are both practically mute, their dynamic suffers.  Drive, again, didn’t have this problem because Albert Brooks filled those BLANKS.

The one true positive and apparent focus of the film is the stunning cinematography.  I got a hint of this during the trailer, but it barely scratches the surface of the amount of breathtakingly beautiful shots you’ll see.  I haven’t seen scenes this colorfully vibrant and skillful composed since Skyfall.  Props should be given to acclaimed cinematographer Larry Smith of Eyes Wide Shut fame and Winding Refn himself.  However, the look of the film seems to be the only place where Winding Refn spent his time.  There really could have been some great material fleshed out of that script if he wanted.

It is thought to be a good thing to leave the people wanting more.  However, a film with too much of too little can run the risk of appearing unclear, disjointed, and lazy.  Now, I know Nicolas Winding Refn isn’t lazy.  He’s a terrific filmmaker.  The style of Only God Forgives seems to be a choice.  In my opinion, it wasn’t entirely the right one.  Crank up the karaoke machine…roll up your sleeves…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 29, 2012

Pusher

REMINISCENT

I’m a child of the 80s.  I grew up with Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.  I watched movies like Scarface and To Live And Die In LA religiously.  I lived through the end of the Cocaine Cowboys era.  I called it the time of “colorful crime“.  Pink and green neon lights shining over crooked drug deals in night club parking lots.  Rhythmic synthesizer beats blaring out of passing car speakers.  That stuff just screams 80s.  Its why I love the film Drive.  It speaks to my youth.  Director Nicolas Winding Refn shot it like a film that could slide right into that era or universe.  Some people didn’t understand or appreciate its minimalistic nature and sudden brutal violence.   But it was a depiction and/or nod to the lifestyle of that time more than an intricately plotted crime drama.  A loner trying to make better of himself is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down.  A simple formula that fits perfectly with 80s sheik.  After Drive, Refn produced a remake of his first film with that same formula and style.  That film is Pusher.

Pusher comes to us from Spanish director Luis Prieto.  Set in England, Pusher tells us the story of Frank.  A loner trying to make better of himself but is unwittingly forced into a situation that brings it all down.  See?  From the opening sequence you can feel the British crime vibe as Guy Ritchie like title cards flash over character’s faces.  British crime films like this are a little more frenetically paced than films like…Heat lets say.  Pusher, however, still feels very REMINISCENT of the 80s style.  The neon is there.  The rhythmic synthesizer beats are there.  The amazingly photographed night shots are there.  And boy, are the crooked drug deals there.

Prieto’s visual style does tend to teeter back and forth between 80s art piece and British gangster film.  From Manhunter to Long Good Friday and back again.  However, when he sticks to the neon and naked city aspects, the film really sets itself apart.  Less so than Refn’s original but still enough for you to take notice. 

Whenever Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Tom Cruise play a role, you have the sense that no matter what’s happening, they’ll be okay.  You don’t really worry for their characters the way you should.  They just present themselves as the inevitable winner in most of their films.  That works out well when they aren’t, but it only serves as a benefit for the end of that film.  You never experience the growing peril or dread fully.  In Pusher, Richard Coyle plays Frank with a rich and realistic feel.  He’s not a stereotypical hero.  He’s not amazingly smart or an amazing fighter or a nut case.  He’s real.  This makes you concerned for his safety and feel his desperation more than if they’d gone with a more recognizable star. 

Pusher is not groundbreaking or a classic.  However, it is a very visually interesting watch and does hold itself up as a worthy remake.  Blag some gear….give it a propah butcher’s….then tell me I’m Pete Tong.

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