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.)
Welcome to the last slow stretch of the Oscar season. Over the next few weeks, a couple of movies will open with the hope of landing acting or writing nominations, but mostly they just want your money (For Your Consideration: The Thing?). The year’s remaining big guns won’t start to arrive until mid-November, and here’s a hunch, based partly on what I’ve seen, partly on instinct, and partly on hope: We’re looking at a year without an early frontrunner. By which I mean that the more than two dozen critics’ groups that announce their year-end prizes in a furiously compressed frenzy of semi-futile self-assertion may not become one big hive mind the way they did in 2009 with The Hurt Locker or last year with The Social Network. It’s possible that The Descendants, the black-and-white silent sensation The Artist, or one of the still-unscreened contenders — War Horse? The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? — could turn into The Monolith, but otherwise, December could bring a scattered and chaotic field. Here’s hoping.
So while we wait, perhaps it’s time to turn to the Academy itself. As Oscar-watchers, we all root for excellence to be rewarded. Sometimes that doesn’t happen because of collective bad taste, or sentimentality, or blind spots, or irrational exuberance, but it’s particularly galling when it doesn’t happen because the Academy’s own rules prevent it.