“Only God Forgives” opens this week on Friday. It’s not a movie for everyone. The response to its Cannes press screening was split. Many critics and journalists booed while others gave it a standing ovation.
Even staunch fans of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling may find it disappointing or frustrating. The movie is a stylistic “experiment.” The cinematography is beautiful, the violence thrilling, and the acting great. It has a hypnotic quality that keeps you watching and stays with you afterwards but comparing it to “Drive” (Gosling and Refn’s earlier team effort film) is a mistake. “Drive” was a much more satisfying movie. “Only God Forgives,” Gosling said, “is more of an experience than a story.”
Gosling plays Julian Thompson, an American living in Bangkok and thriving in the drug underworld. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julian’s icy and terrifying mother, Crystal.
Examiner Dorri Olds sat down yesterday with Ryan Gosling, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Kristin Scott Thomas at the Mandarin Hotel in Columbus Circle to discuss the film. The filmmaker and stars spoke openly about their experience during the making of this unusual flick. Gosling summed it up well, “The film is like a drug. You either have a good trip or a bad trip.”
Dorri Olds: What drew you to this project?
Ryan Gosling: I was happy to get the chance to be able to do this. I knew Nic was going to make this really personal film and I wanted to be a part of it. The great thing about working with Nic is that he involves everyone and is very interested in what they think.
Olds: Can you compare it to “Drive”?
Like working on “Drive,” this was a great experience. After “Drive” I’ve had opportunities to do a lot of different things and big films. I chose to make this film knowing it was going to be very challenging, financially and for a lot of reasons. I knew it was sure to divide people.
Kristin Scott Thomas: One of the greatest things about working on this particular project and with this director was that I felt free to suggest anything outrageous and no one was going to gasp and giggle. No one was going to look at me disapprovingly. It was going to be taken seriously as a proposition and not as a judgment. That’s very rare and very exciting.
Gosling: Nic and I have a history so that helps build a certain kind of trust going into a movie and working this way. Because of the way Nic works you’re not really sure of the movie you’re making and neither is he. [Smiles] He is sort of finding it as he goes along and there’s a lot at stake while he does that so you just go along for the ride. This film was different than “Drive” despite some similarities. In “Drive” I was the driver and in this I’m more of a vehicle for the audience.
Kristin, you looked almost unrecognizable in this film. How did that come about?
Thomas: I had done a photo shoot a day before we first started talking about this film. Donatella Versace had dressed me up in a similar kind of thing and I was amazed by peoples’ reaction to me and how the atmosphere around me changed. Particularly with men, they became critically aggressive and women cowered. I felt really, really uncomfortable. It struck me that there are women all over the planet who think that this is an ideal of beauty they want to emulate. Every day they will get up and do this whole thing and create this kind of atmosphere. So, it seemed to me a really good idea for my character to have this type of war paint, a kind of armor used to dress for battle. It was a way for me to get into this character when I didn’t have a clue about it. I felt very distant from her especially when she became American. I felt at least some relationship to her when she was English.
Olds: Why did that change?
Thomas: When Ryan came on board.
Gosling: Yeah, I came in and ruined everything.
Thomas: I asked Nicolas, “What kind of accent is Ryan Gosling going to have? What kind of English is he going to do? And Nicolas said, “He’s not.” So that was that.
Click here for part II
“Only God Forgives” opens in New York City this week on Friday, July 19, 2013 at the Film Center Lincoln Center and the Angelika Film Center. Action thriller crime drama. Rated R. 89 minutes.