Only God Forgives Blu-ray Review
Artistic masterpiece or pretentious shell?
Not Drive 2
There is, unfortunately, a fine line that filmmakers can all-too-easily cross between artistic worth and pretentious fancy. Only God Forgives treads all over this line, moreso than Refn has ever dared before, and I think it probably even slips over it a few times too.It’s all good and well to leave audiences with the feeling that they have been experiencing something desperately elusive – often this can be forgiven as enigmatically enthralling – but, when the film you’re watching starts to betray the possibility that even the filmmakers themselves didn’t have a true grasp on what they were committed to, things start to unravel. There was an undeniable plan to Only God Forgives, but the end result is so smothered in thick style and mood – and Refn clearly so preoccupied with rendering it as such – that the truth feels not only obscured but downright lost. We’re left pondering the point of some scenes, rather than just absorbing them, and it leaves us simultaneously pleading for more answers whilst also desperately queuing for the exit, as the end credits roll.
Yes, Refn is a talented filmmaker. I'll never argue that fact. Yes, Gosling is a talented actor. There's no denying that either. But the magic just isn't here; the force isn't strong with this one. Even Refn's most elusive works have been capable of sheer admiration, where affection is hard to achieve. It is similarly possible to admire the work put into Only God Forgives, but it steps ever closer towards robbing us of even that testiment. Fitfully intoxicating and stylistically daring, it's also tragically flawed and undeniably disappointing; an unfortunate example of style suffocating substance. Still, Refn will probably, thankfully, survive his latest controversial, divisive, curio largely on the basis of his last masterpiece; Only Drive Forgives.
Visual OpulenceOnly God Forgives hits UK Region B-locked Blu-ray complete with the same spectacular video presentation that adorned the recent US counterpart, promoting the movie with 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Refn’s stylistic choices help no end, but also prove challenging which, thankfully, the video presentation is up to handling.
Refn's substance may be hard to find, but his style certainly helps make this a stunning visual experience.
From the vibrant neon lights to the overpowering red tones that bathe some of the more symbolic moments, thankfully the transfer handles the image very well, delivering strong clarity and largely good detail, which is far more frequently exceptional than it is questionable. Skin tones, clothing weaves and background textures are all rendered well, and the perfectly-framed image often looks freeze-frame stunning. That said, black levels are marginally unpredictable, and noise levels do similarly fluctuate more often than you’d like in an ideal world, leaving this easily standing out as demo material, but not quite earning itself a perfect 10.
Aural MajestyAs you might have expected, Only God Forgives sounds outstanding. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track has the perfect material to play with – not only does Refn clearly take his time to perfect the ultimate aural accompaniment, but he has the best possible collaborator in master film score composer Cliff Martinez.
Long-term collaborator Cliff Martinez provides yet another superior score.
Aside from promoting clear and coherent dialogue throughout the piece (not that the dialogue is an important element), largely from across the frontal array, the track allows plenty of surround room for fine ambient touches which help draw you into the environment, whether it be the bustle of the street or the noise of a restaurant – always countering chatter with pure silence, to great effect. Dynamics are well-utilised, and louder blows thunder home, whilst more potent environmental noises – a penetrating downpour – will make you wonder whether your roof is leaking. It’s the score, however, that reaches sheer perfection through-and-through, drawing in a strong and oppressive bass line that digs right under your skin and leaves you unsettled even before the film’s more effective moments hit home visually. Outstanding.
Behind the FilmOn the extras front, the UK release boasts the same Director’s Commentary as the US release – with Refn on good form as he charts the production journey – but doesn’t appear to have any of the rest of the extras from that release (the Featurettes and Interviews). Instead we get a selection of 8 short Behind the Scenes Clips, a great little Concept Art Gallery and some Trailers for the film.
Looks fantastic, sounds fantastic, and at least still sports the Commentary from the US counterpart.
UnforgivenUnfortunately, despite best-laid plans, and the quality of the ingredients, the end result here is far from the perfect dish that was Drive. Indeed it’s probably Refn’s most hard-to-appreciate, impossible-to-love work, skirting around the edge of logic whilst riding high atop a mount named symbolism, which would be fine were it not for the fact that Only God Forgives falls on the wrong side of pretentiousness.
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray, thankfully the film looks and sounds absolutely stunning, and comes with a nice selection of extras, making this a must-have purchase for fans, and a necessary addition to the libraries of those who love everything Refn has done, and not just Drive.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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