"Wanna fight?" That is one of the just 15 or so lines of dialogue Ryan Gosling utters in the new film Only God Forgives. It's delivered limply, like he hardly means it, to an enemy. Across the 89-minute running time, Gosling shuffles and sulks through his performance as Julian, a dazed Muay Thai gym owner and drug kingpin in Bangkok. In the movie, he seeks vengeance for his brother's murder, he tangles with Vithaya Pansringarm's self-styled samurai cop, and he absorbs withering emasculation from his mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas with velociraptor zeal by way of Real Housewives of Boston iciness. But he rarely speaks. This is Ryan Gosling.
"Who's the toma-tah?" That is one of the 150 or so lines of dialogue Ryan Gosling utters in the recent film Gangster Squad. It's delivered coolly, indicating that he really means to learn the identity of the redhead he's eyeing in a smoky nightclub. Across the nearly two-hour running time, Gosling smirks and chatters and shoots his way through post-WWII Los Angeles. He romances Emma Stone, battles Sean Penn's Mickey Cohen, and saves the day. He speaks a lot, and often in the voice of a cartoon cat. This is Ryan Gosling.
Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
How nice it would be to report that the second teaming of Refn and Ryan Gosling has produced something as ecstatic and electrically nasty as their first. But the nastiness this time isn't nice. It's just ... nasty. This isn't Drive. It's a rib cage rolling on human heads for tires. Gosling is a dude who operates a muay thai gym in Bangkok and dreams of having his hands sliced off. He's not wrong to be scared. Vithaya Pansringarm plays an ex-cop who, starting with Gosling's rapist-murderer brother, hacks his way through anyone who exploits or kills anyone's daughters — or anyone related to Gosling.
Refn usually works on the border between classicism and formal chaos. His shotmaking and choreography are pristine, even when the images are splattered with blood. The film editing is precise. The sound design imaginative. The art direction museum-quality. This is more of the same — the Crayola color would be "viscera" — but all that craftsmanship is put to obvious, indulgent ends. It doesn't take long to deduce that the vengeful slicing and hacking of limbs and the like are Refn living out some kind of castration nightmare. (At 89 minutes, the movie lasts as long as a bad nap.) To put too fine a point upon that dread, along comes Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling's slum queen with a dirty mouth and filthier intentions. Her participation is as much a stunt as any of the sword work. (The most loving, if grotesque, image happens not to be phallic but vaginal.)
Now this is more like it. Finally, a movie outrageous enough to make people stand up and boo. The honor goes to Only God Forgives, 90 minutes inside a barrel of Nicolas Winding Refn's subconscious sexual nightmares. All the slicing and hacking makes it obvious: Refn is scared someone wants to take away his penis. It's true that some of the audience came to the film's rescue with applause. But after the final pair of limbs had been slashed off, you knew what the jeering was all about. Some of us were hoping Refn would top the flamboyant brooding of Bronson or the neon ecstasy of Drive. We got instead a work of regressive junk.
Ryan Gosling returns, this time as some kind of Refn surrogate. He's a drug dealer and the owner of a Bangkok muy thai boxing gym prone to walking very slowly down corridors lit, like most of the movie, in emergency-exit red and dreaming of reaching for a door and having his arm slashed off. This guy is seeking revenge for the murder of his brother — even though the brother is a psychopath who raped a teenage girl and bludgeoned her to death. Gosling is once again horny, silent, and deadly, but because this is a Western movie in Thailand, the only woman a man can find is a prostitute.
If you have a couple of minutes today, do yourself a favor and check out this joint Moviefone interview with Ryan Gosling and his Drive director, Nicolas Winding Refn, back from 2011. They may well be playing it up for the cameras, but Ryan and Nic seem like the chummiest of old pals: just two dudes, giddy that someone's let them make a movie about all the gnarly shit they used to draw in their notebooks.
Silver: I’m an ardent Danny Boyle fan (I even like The Beach), and him directing with Trainspotting and Shallow Grave writer John Hodge on an intimate crime caper is just what I’d want from him for his first film released post-Olympics (fun fact: The film was actually shot prior to Boyle’s work on the Opening Ceremony). And almost all of his signature stylistic touches pop up in this trailer: switching back and forth between film and video, unconventional camera angles during action scenes, the utilization of reflective surfaces. So what if the hypnotism element is a little cheesy? This looks like classic Boyle. And I, for one, can’t wait.
Browne: The hypnotism element is more than a little cheesy, Dan. I just get the sense this is one of those films that you're not supposed to find funny, but is filled with moments that cause muted laughter anyway. I'm sure it'll be good and hold my attention, because Boyle knows what he's doing, and the cast looks strong, but when they bring out the tarot cards two-thirds of the way in, I'm not going to be able to keep a straight face.
Dan Silver: Last week Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a film I was looking forward to mocking, shunning, and then secretly renting on VOD one night after my wife and kid went to bed. But after seeing the brooding, visually vibrant, and downright bad-ass first trailer, I quickly became excited to fork over my $11 on June 22. So it pains me to say that the film’s international trailer diminishes my enthusiasm somewhat. With its orchestral score and all too typical hyperbolic, out of context, monologue/VO, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter now feels like the tonally askew, narratively disjointed, bland summer blockbuster I always thought it was going to be. More specifically it’s smelling a little like Jonah Hex. [Ed Note: OUCH.]
I’d like to thank the Academy for throwing an extra mystery at those of us who treat predicting the Oscars as something between a hobby and a blood sport: This year, we have to figure out not only which movies will be nominated, but how many. After concluding that the appropriate number of Best Picture contenders was five for 65 consecutive years, and then 10 for two consecutive years, what the Academy’s board of governors has now settled on is “from five to ten.” How can we narrow that down? Well, the Academy did offer one clue by revealing that when it experimentally retabulated the ballots from 2001 through 2008, the results yielded, in different years, five, six, seven, eight, and nine nominees — but never ten.
This weekend, one movie divided America like no other. Though Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive finished a solid No. 3 at the box office, it seems audiences weren’t as enamored of this inaction thriller as critics (or the Cannes jury, which awarded Refn their Best Director prize). While Drive’s Tomatometer stands at 91 percent, its Cinemascore audience-approval rating is a dismal C-. (By way of comparison, even I Don’t Know How She Does It got a Cinemascore of B-.)
But which score matters more to the Razzies? Could Drive take audience disappointment on a fast ride to Razzie glory? Let’s take a closer look.
Nicolas Wending Refn’s Drive is about a stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night played by Ryan Gosling. Among its many recommendable qualities (the performances, Refn’s visual virtuosity, bringing back toothpicks and satin jackets) are the film's fully analog car chases and stunts. So who was responsible for Drive's action? Meet stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott. We spoke with him this week about his career, Ryan Gosling, and a funny thing that happened one day on the set of the Jet Li/DMX classic, Cradle 2 the Grave.
Bradley Cooper is in talks to replace Mark Wahlberg in David O. Russell's The Silver Linings Playbook, about a former high school teacher institutionalized for depression and released into the care of his mother (trend alert!). Cooper is negotiating for the part of the teacher and, in related news, his Limitless costarRobert De Niro will probably also join the movie in some capacity. Wahlberg is reportedly leaving the project to play another cop in Allen Hughes' Broken City. Grade: B- [Deadline]