April 24, 2013

WANG: Only God Forgives Ryan Gosling

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With the sweet stirrings of summer on the horizon, the anticipation for the 2013 season of summer blockbusters steadily mounts. In the depths of my impassioned research (26 tabs, two windows and counting) for what would have been a quickie summer cinema preview article, I found among the requisite slag of noncommittal franchise fare, scores (scores!) of cinematic promise. For every nefarious studio-bulking sequel (300 Part 2, The Smurfs 2, Red 2), there are twice as many auspicious options (Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Before Tonight, even The Hangover Part III). Even for a season of mostly comic book movies and large-scale sci-fi, the pickings are more than decent — I say in precipitous suspense for Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of John Harrison, and the newest Superman reboot Man of Steel. For once, prequel’s don’t suck — Elysium looks satisfying as a brainy thriller of social commentary (Neill Blomkamp’s prequel to District 9), and Monsters University is, well, invincible coming from Pixar.

And yet, despite all this cinematic bounty, despite Joss Whedon doing an adorable modern-day adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing set in his own home, despite Baz Luhrmann’s glittery clusterfuck dream team of a cast and crew in The Great Gatsby, the most anticipated movie for me this summer is Only God Forgives. This is the film I choose above all — a film reuniting Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn — for a reliably gruesome revenge narrative.

But if I wanted action from an auteur, I would’ve chosen Wong Kar-Wai’s first piece in six years, Grandmasters, which gets its state-side premiere this summer. His masterful modern works of heavy stylization and emotional resonance more safely guarantee critical acclaim in this genre, though all I know of Only God Forgives is what I gathered from the enigmatic bits and pieces of its two NSFW trailers, pretty much all the media thus far propagated on the film. These trailers are, of course, nearly wordless, save for an ominous voiceover from Kristin Scott Thomas’ character, Gosling’s gangster mom and Gosling’s final chilling utterance of, “Wanna fight?” at trailer’s end. Little is known about Only God Forgives, but the red band promo seems to suggest that Thomas is the HBIC of a drug empire who, after learning of her son’s murder, orders her other son (Gosling) to hunt down the corrupt cop (played by Vithaya Pansringarm) who did it. Instead of the sleepless, sunlit streets of Los Angeles, Gosling executes all his slaughter along the even seedier, even more sleepless, neon-lit streets of Bangkok.

As it is Refn’s signature, pregnant silence seems to play the supporting actor in the film — followed closely by calmly executed, grisly violence. Pansringarm’s character drives two stakes into the forearms of his poor target. Meanwhile, Gosling’s character drags a bleeding victim across the corridor by the roof of his mouth, sharing the same look of steely reserve that populated the eyes of Gosling’s The Driver character. And, just as in Refn’s Drive, Gosling is defined by monotone murmurs and American Psycho-level metro man-grooming, all amidst artful backdrops of excellent cinematography. It must be asked then: Is this film just another Drive?

Maybe Only God Forgives will release a hypnotizing ’80s synth-pop soundtrack to confirm our beliefs, but, thus far, all signs point to yes. Why then would this of all movies be my most anticipated? The more I ponder this, the more I just don’t know. It’s true that this is the type of film I adore — stylish thrillers — but maybe the appeal lies in Gosling’s magnetism. I love Ryan Gosling as much as the next girl — which is to say, a lot — but never quite for this reason. I mean, I love him for his feminist “Hey Girl” meme and I love him for how much he loves his dog, George. I love him for breaking up fights on the streets of New York, and I love him for that one time my NYU friend spotted him in the East Village, propping up the bicycles that had fallen from the rack, like the selfless samaritan we imagine him to be. I love him for the third grade chorus singing in his surprisingly good jazz-grunge band, Dead Man’s Bones, and I love him for telling Rachel McAdams that he wrote her a letter every day for a year in The Notebook (even though there’s no post on Sundays). I love Ryan Gosling for all these reasons, but honestly, I never quite found him to be quite the “actor’s actor” his peers recognize him to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong — he’s a definitely a good actor, and it’s commendable that he pursues personal roles as creative endeavors instead of profitable franchises.

But maybe Gosling isn’t choosing these roles; maybe the roles are choosing him. He’s never quite fit in with the big budget and the mainstream (Hello, Gangster Squad), but he has always chosen the brooding type. Honestly, I don’t know if he’s that damn good at angsty acting, or if he’s just playing himself in different manifestations. Af-ter all, he’s admitted to a somewhat disturbed psyche due to a childhood of lonerism. And how many times can he play the man of mute machismo, a bad boy capable of reform, as he does in The Place Beyond the Pines, in Ides of March, in Drive, before he is inextricably that person? Is it that hard to believe that he’s really Noah, that blue-collar drifter, the guy who built his long-lost love their dream house, when Gosling built the car in Drive, built the table in Blue Valentine out of a church door and calls his real-life relationship with Rachel McAdams a greater romance than their on screen performance? Is it that hard to believe that Gosling is the motorcycle-riding, bank-robbing father of The Place Beyond the Pines, when he only got the role because he coincidentally told the director, Derek Cianfrance, at the time he completed the script that he fantasizes about robbing banks on a motorcycle?

And so, despite every blockbuster set to hit this summer — surpassing even my nerd-love for comic book movies — Only God Forgives reigns above all. It’s hard to explain why exactly. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I just want to believe Ryan Gosling plays himself in all roles, that he really does pick up fallen bikes on the side of the road, that he’s just that hot and good. Maybe I just want to go on believing that he’s really that ideal human being, and maybe, you know, he actually is.

Original Author: Alice Wang