In our next Messy Movie, we look at a film, which should have been a classic. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling, we could have hoped for another genre creating masterpiece like their previous collaboration Drive. Instead we got a horrible mess of a film, which shared more in common with a snuff movie, than a coherent story.
Starting off we have the same periods of silence and striking lighting and cinematography, that made Drive a piece of art as well as a film. Unfortunately in this film we never get a chance to become immersed in the setting. Gosling plays Julian, an owner of a fighting club that is a front for a drug empire. Despite little or nothing in the way of dialogue or exposition we see his brother kill a local prostitute. This sets in motion the chain of events, that drives the film.
The main problem with Refn’s art school style is a lack of characterisation. In Drive the main character was a driver for hire. A familiar stereotype in a familiar city. Because of this Gosling’s moody, emotional portrayal was used to portray the mood of the character to great effect. In OGF, the audience are trying to get a handle on a foreign setting, trying to discover a more layered character in Julian and dealing with some subtitled sections. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work. Julian’s actions become meaningless, as we haven’t had a chance to see how damaged a creature he is. When his brother kills the prostitute and sets the spiral of violence in motion, we just don’t care. If Julian wasn’t played by Gosling, I wouldn’t even have considered him a main character. There are two other notable characters in the film. Julian’s mother Crystal, Played by Kristen Scott Thomas and Chang played by Vithaya Pansringarm. Both are the only redeeming features of this mess.
Crystal is a creation of the devil. The real mastermind behind the drug business, she commands Julian to find the killer of his brother and settle the score. She considers his brother to be the better man and spends her time in the film reminding Julian of this. Thomas plays this character well. She is so repulsive and horrible, that she is almost unwatchable. Every time she is on the screen you feel revolted and repulsed. The oedipal nature of her relationship with Gosling, is frankly disgusting and although played well could have been more subtle. This reaches a head when Julian takes his favourite sex worker to dinner with Crystal. She belittles her, uses foul language and causes the end of any potential saving role Mai, the sex worker could have in Julian’s life. She also becomes entwined with Chang when she finds out he had a role to play in the death of her other son. After Julian had already had this out with Chang, the film seemed to be on the way to recovery, Crystal sends men to kill Chang and ruins this peace.
Chang is perhaps the best character in the film. He has an almost mythical status in Bangkok as the angel of vengeance. He is basically a retired police detective who keeps the balance of peace, using extreme vigilante violence. His prowess as a hand-to-hand combatant means he is feared by all. When Julian’s brother kills the prostitute, Chang arranges for her father to give him a beating to maintain the balance. Her father goes too far and kills him. Chang then cuts the man’s hand off for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute. When Crystal targets Chang, it upsets the balance again and he tortures the attacker to find out Crystal’s identity. Knowing her attack has failed Crystal pleads with Julian to kill Chang and if he does she will take him home and be a ‘real’ mother to him… not pleasant. Julian confronts Chang and loses badly to him in a boxing match. Chang then goes to see Crystal with a police officer and slits her throat. Julian finds her and for some unknown reason slices her corpse and puts his hands inside. Is it a way to feel closer to her? To get back into the womb? I really don’t know or care. Julian then surrenders himself to Chang, who cuts his hands off, as a vision he had earlier foretold. There is no explanation, no resolution and no comeuppance, except death. Chang finishes the film by signing karaoke, as he had in an earlier scene.
The violence in this film is sickening. Drive had its fair share of violence, but it was in context, and didn’t feel out of place. In OGF, the violence is snuff like. Blood flies everywhere to a sickening and pointless extent. I have no problem with this if the film has earned the right to show it. This film doesn’t. It is no more than a glorified Hostel. In fact it is worse as Hostel has the bare bones of a story. Above I have basically written out the whole film. Gosling was presumably told to play the moody silent type, Thomas steals the show as Crystal and the rest are functional. The acting is fine, just the script, story and setting are under developed. If there had been some light in this film and some periods of levity, then we could have had a chance to dig deeper into the whole package. Unfortunately the film is permanently dark, depressing and repulsive to the viewer.
The worst thing about the film is the film that preceded it, Drive. Drive is one of my favourite films. That gave me the hope for more with this film. It is always the hope that kills you. I thought this would be a chance to get a stylish, artistic film in Bangkok. Instead it is a horrible mash-up of ideas and violence, that wastes a decent cast. It almost ruins the legacy of Drive by being so bad. I would find it difficult to recommend this film on any level, except as a case study on how not to follow up a classic. Truly a messy movie.