Monday Morning Critic – Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives And The Profound Lack Of Masculinity In Modern Hollywood

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Sometimes it’s easier to just use Amazon to see a new film as opposed to trudge out to the theatre. Only God Forgives had been on my wish for a while but the only theatre showing it was close to the city of Chicago and, with a 40 mile drive each way, that wasn’t happening. The one downside to home ownership is that long drives for a film aren’t in the budget anymore. If it’s either a movie in the city, or the gas bill, my desire to have a working dryer and oven come first.

The interesting thing is that the film hasn’t been expanding, theatre wise, but has come onto VOD and places like Amazon. Thus, for what turned out to be a cheaper rental than a movie ticket would’ve been, I opted to watch it at home instead. I enjoy watching film at the theatre but at this point it’s getting cost prohibitive; when you’re paying $11-14 a ticket and looking at a DVD that costs almost that amount you have to think twice about seeing a movie at the theatre. For someone who loves going to the movie theatre, and watching film in the best possible medium, it’s a harsh and depressing new reality.


Amazon charged $7 and I watched it three times in 48 hours, which isn’t bad because I really enjoyed the film. It would’ve been about triple that if you throw in an $11 ticket, plus gas each way. It will probably be on my Top 10 of 2013, most likely, and it brought up a couple of things in my mind as I watched it. The first was the usual rant about the cost of seeing a movie. But that’s typical web writer stuff and this column has (usually) been about looking at a film outside of that. Something my buddy Hunter of Midnight Movie Cowboys mentioned on the Facebook got me thinking as I was watching this film.

There is a near criminal lack of true masculinity from most of modern Hollywood.

One can see where Nicolas Winding Refn is going with his use of Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives because it’s the same way he used Gosling in Drive. I imagine it’ll be the same way he uses him in the next several films they collaborate on; Refn thinks of Gosling as his muse in the same way Martin Scorsese uses Leonardo DiCaprio now (and Robert De Niro back in the day) and Christopher Nolan holds on to Christian Bale.

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I’ve never fancied myself as a director but I imagine that if you can find an actor you can write and direct around that it makes film-making easier in a way. You know their strengths and can play to them, avoiding their weaknesses, allowing you to tell your story a bit easier. The actor/director relationship is like that of an athlete/coach in a lot of ways. Refn knows that Gosling’s ability to use his body to tell the story, instead of dialogue, is an asset and thus can write a film with a lead character that isn’t loquacious and make it work.

McQueen made his living using his body, as opposed to lots of dialogue, to tell a character’s story because he had that ability to use it so much more effectively than his peers. Gosling isn’t quite as effective as McQueen (no one is, really) but he’s good enough to craft a character around it. It just depends on the character, which is the difference in my opinion. But Hunter pointed out something that actually made me think and contemplate as I was watching Only God Forgives.

This film would be significantly better if Gosling was more masculine in the true sense, not the current Hollywood sense. I kept thinking that if this film was made 50 years ago McQueen would’ve the guy to take this role … and would’ve just destroyed it as Julian.


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Gosling in the role. But the one thing that kept bothering me is that I couldn’t take him nearly as seriously as I would someone like McQueen in the role because he’s not the type you can buy in your heart in the role. It’s not Gosling in particular; I’ve really enjoyed his work over the years and his work as an actor is usually first rate. But the one thing that sticks in my mind about him and his generation of actors (The Jake Gyllenhaals and the like) is that they lack a sense of being men in the most basic of senses (for lack of a better word).

There’s nothing wrong with it, of course, as each generation of actors is usually different than the one that preceded it. But film as a whole doesn’t change despite the popularity of certain genres coming and going. It’s something Sylvester Stallone said once that still resonates with me, especially when I see someone like Gosling play a tough guy as opposed to being a tough guy in a film. It’s easy to put on a pair of tights, or have a good stunt double, and look like a tough guy. But it rings hollow and it’s the only thing that bothered me about Only God Forgives.


This is a role that required that level of manliness that only comes from deep inside, the type that doesn’t respond to a punch with words and a call to the cops. It’s the response of burying that guy where he stands, or taking a beating while trying to do so, that is missing. It’s the reason why action films from the ‘80s still resonate when you watch them nowadays as opposed to seeing someone like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck save the day.

I can believe Jason Bourne is a badass but as soon as I hear an interview with Matt Damon about the film something deep inside feels off. It’s not a matter of how they do it but a matter of that thing you can sense in someone. We wonder where all the movie stars have gone and I think it has a lot to do with this lack of most modern actors lacking the thing that made cinema heroes of old so endearing.

And on that note … let’s listen to some Dropkick Murphys.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge


This Week’s DVD rental – Only God Forgives

Julian (Ryan Gosling) deals drugs out of his Muay Thai gym in Thailand when his brother gets all crazy and kills a hooker. That hooker’s dad kills him for vengeance. Julian really doesn’t have a problem with it, as he understands his brother did something bad and deserved his punishment. All is well in the world until Julian’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) wants the hooker’s dad dead, something Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) won’t stand for.

My thoughts mirror Richard Roeper’s, so give his a look. My own mirror his.


What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Smurfs 2 – They’re back.

Kill yourself instead – Anyone excited for this film and who isn’t using it as an excuse to get their kids to shut up for 90 minutes needs to get out of the gene pool.

2 Guns – Denzel Washington and Marky Mark steal money from the CIA. Shenanigans ensue.

See it – It’s Denzel; you’re guaranteed to at least be entertained enough to make you glad you spent money on it.

The Spectacular Now – Miles Teller is a high school kid who loves booze and doesn’t think about the future. Shailene Woodley likes books and the future. Shenanigans ensue. In limited release.

See it – Teller is going to be a massive star and a big time actor very soon. Watch him develop into one now.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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