Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France/Thailand/USA/Sweden, 2013. Space Rocket Nation, Gaumont, Wild Bunch, Motel Movies, Bold Films, Film i Vast, DR/Flimklubben, Nordisk Film ShortCut, Danish Film Institute, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, MEDIA Programme of the European Union. Screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn. Cinematography by Larry Smith. Produced by Lene Borglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval. Music by Cliff Martinez. Production Design by Beth Mickle. Costume Design by Wasitchaya ‘Nampeung’ Mochanakul. Film Editing by Matthew Newman. Cannes Film Festival 2013.
Nicolas Winding Refn reunites with his Drive star Ryan Gosling for another mesmerizing combination of hypnotic visuals, pulsing soundtrack and supremely violent imagery. Gosling plays a shady American living in Bangkok, running a Muay Thai boxing gym but actually making his money from importing drugs. His mentally unstable brother opens the film by viciously murdering a teenage prostitute, then is killed by her father, who is then maimed by a sword-wielding police officer (Vithaya Pansringarm) for bringing this kind of trouble upon them all. Kristin Scott Thomas is a riot as the boys’ mother, complete with brassy blond hair and elongated nails, who flies in from the States to tell Gosling to avenge her firstborn’s death or else face her disappointment forever. It’s a spare skeleton of a story, one whose telling could conventionally be presented in fifteen minutes, but Refn is more concerned with the emotional circularity of Asian cinema in the vein of Wong Kar Wai. Endless shots of cavernous red hallways accentuate the many scenes in which we see violent acts beget more violent acts, and where revenge is a vicious cycle that has no end. Pansringarm and Gosling are compellingly stoic, even when they face each other in a fighting match, making Scott Thomas the comic relief as a firebrand character with a few hints of Oedipal madness (I love when she snaps her fingers at him and just lets that hang in the air before barking a command). It’s a richly dark role for her, far away from the frosty English ladies she is most famous for playing, and having this campy madness of a character amid all these stony faces is one of the film’s most exciting assets (her hilarious wardrobe is among the others). Like Drive, the film is an experience that does not get you steeped heavily in its characters emotions or motivations, which might make the grislier scenes harder to accept and perhaps makes it a pretentious borefest for some, but as a finely tuned exercise in style you could hardly do better.