Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was my surprise favourite film of 2011, a vaguely ’80s crime drama that contrasted a smooth, stylish aesthetic with blunt brutality. It was also the first movie to really sell me on Ryan Gosling as an actor, the former London, Ontario resident immersing himself in the quiet and increasingly frightening role of the film’s nameless driver. It also had an amazing soundtrack courtesy of most-underrated-film-composer-ever Cliff Martinez and electronic artists like Kavinsky, College and Desire. So I was as psyched as possible to watch Only God Forgives, the second collaboration between Refn and Gosling, again featuring the music of Martinez.
But as Drive was as unconventional a crime thriller as they come—in spite of its premise, less The Fast and the Furious and more Manhunter with cars—Only God Forgives is as unexpected a follow up to Drive as I could have imagined. I went in expecting Drive, but in Thailand, and ultimately watched what felt like something Stanley Kubrick might have directed… but in Thailand. And that isn’t a bad thing.