In Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn’s latest work, the duo continue their film noir portrayals of underworld activity. Refn, who wrote the script as well as directed the film, takes his vision from Drive and stretches its dark themes and characters so far that the viewer falls through the holes. Any modern conceptions of morality are thrown out in this tale of vengeance and primal ultraviolent justice.
The film follows Julian (Gosling), who is a member of a drug-dealing family cartel based in Bangkok. Julian is thrown into a blood fest with the local authorities after his brother brutally rapes a local teenage girl and, as a consequence, is killed for his crime.
The arrival of Julian’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), acts as a catalyst as she demands that Julian to take the blood owed for his brother’s death while embarking on her own vendetta-stricken mission in her son’s name. Eventually, Julian and Crystal enter into a spiralling confrontation with their leader Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).
Unsurprisingly, there is no character development, but rather static characters that paint portraits of hardened realists. Gosling practically reprises his character from Drive, giving the audience the same monosyllabic dialogue and brooding glances. While this worked fine, it fell short of expectations.
The other actors in the film show quite well, offsetting Gosling’s seemingly disinterested but adequate performance. Thomas’ performance as a Versace-wearing mafia queen is superb, overshadowing Gosling. Pansringarm delivers a performance so cold that you would be scared if you met him on the street.
As with all of Refn’s work, the film is heavy on style and delivers a macabre world that is blanketed in shadows. The use of shadows playing between the light and dark throughout the film implies a theme of unequivocal morality played throughout the context of Hammurabi justice, more than just distinctive camera work.
There are no heroes or villains. Though Chang initially starts the movie as a quasi-anti-hero, his view of the world is based on a warped sadistic interpretation of justice. This is slowly revealed as Chang carries out increasingly gruesome forms of punishment on those who would do wrong.
Every character’s actions are unredeemable, hence the title, as Refn taps into primitive intuitions of human morality. Vengeance drives the plot as every action is based on savage and barbaric tendencies. Refn moves the plot along at a deliberate pace, spacing out the violence within the movie quite well. The tension builds to the point where these scenes of violence are almost cathartic.
The pace could alienate some viewers, as it’s a break from your normal viewing experience. That being said, the viewer’s patience is rewarded with scenes of bloodshed that surpass anything you would typically see in a summer blockbuster.