What You Missed
Brothers Julian and Billy (Gosling and Tom Burke) are drug smugglers who run a fight club in Bangkok. One night, Billy employs and murders a 16-year-old hooker. As the boys' mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) says when she shows up, "I'm sure he had his reasons."
The nature of those reasons is moot, because Billy quickly falls victim to vengeance engineered by a cop (Vithaya Pansringarm) with a sharp blade, a fine singing voice and strong notions of right and wrong.
Julian wants to let the matter rest there, given that Billy was kinda indisputably a dick, but Mom is having none of it. She taunts him with insults to his manhood until he reluctantly agrees to seek counter-vengeance. Big mistake.
Why You Missed It
Mixed cheers and jeers at Cannes 2013. Released in 81 U.S. theaters, none here. Now on Netflix Instant, etc.
Should You Keep Missing It?
As so often happens, my response to this movie was a dialogue between my inner teen and my inner adult.
Inner Teen: I love Ryan Gosling! I loved Drive! I liked Bronson and Valhalla Rising! I'm so psyched for this!
Inner Adult: Stop being such a fangirl. I've heard it's low on dialogue, stylistically self-indulgent and rich with allusions to movies you haven't seen, which means it will appeal only to hard-core cinéastes.
Fifteen Minutes In
Inner Teen: Well, it sure is ... red. Why does Gosling always have the same pissed-off expression [see image above]? I can see he's nicer than his brother, but what's his deal? Why does he pay prostitutes to do stuff while he just watches? Does that mean he's a good guy, or just a less-bad guy?
Inner Adult: Who knows? Who cares? I don't think we're meant to. All these spooky tracking shots of red-lit hallways are giving me strong Kubrick and Lynch vibes. It's kind of hypnotic.
An Hour In
Inner Teen: Why is Kristin Scott Thomas' character such a bitch? She's like a Real Housewife with 'roid rage. She reminds me of Cameron Diaz in The Counselor. Do bleached-blonde, spray-tanned American ladies represent Evil in art movies now?
Inner Adult: At least she's fun to watch. Nobody else is. I do appreciate the Thai cop, though; he's dedicated to his work. Impeccably orchestrated violence makes a nice break from all the floating through red- and orange-lit spaces. And the brothel scenes remind me of Blue Velvet.
As Credits Roll
Inner Teen: That was really boring. I didn't give a crap about any of the characters, and it had way, way more dead space than Drive, plus none of those fake-'80s songs I like.
Inner Adult: This reminded me of Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void, only shorter and with less rotating. A brilliant director makes a visually mesmerizing, narratively sparse film that is undoubtedly better when you're on mind-altering drugs.
I've never been a fan of deindividualized, archetypal characters, and Winding Refn appears to be heavy into those. But his other films had elements that kept me interested. I don't think a claustrophobic urban setting works for a story like this — it might have been better as a Western, with open spaces to distract us from the nonstory.
Inner Teen: Whatever. All I'm going to remember about this movie is red, red, RED. And how somebody found a really gross use for knitting needles.
Verdict: You already know if you'll like it.
This Week in Theaters
Here comes The Hunger Games juggernaut again with Catching Fire. My inner teen is into it.
Meanwhile, Vince Vaughn turns out to have hundreds of kids in Delivery Man, and Matthew McConaughey plays a very heterosexual HIV/AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, at the Roxy.
This Week on Video
2 Guns, Crystal Fairy, Hannah Arendt, Paranoia, Planes, The To Do List, We're the Millers, The World's End.