The first lively audience response to a film in this Cannes competition came Wednesday with the boos and whistles following the screening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest, in which he reunites with Drive star Ryan Gosling in a blood-soaked Bangkok-set revenge drama shot largely at night in alleys and sex-club corridors lit in lurid crimson neon.
Gosling plays an ultrapassive drug dealer named Julian who runs a muay thai boxing club with his wild-card brother, Billy (Tom Burke). When Billy is killed for a crime, his mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) blows into town like a platinum-haired Cruella de Vil, demanding vengeance. (When Julian explains that Billy raped and killed a 16-year-old prostitute, Mom says icily: “I’m sure he had his reasons.”)
Soon, Julian is pitted against a police chief who moves so quickly he appears to transport through space, wielding a lethal sword, chopsticks or whatever’s handy (though he stops occasionally to perform maudlin romantic karaoke ballads while his officers watch).
Music here is as important as the set design, which are both much more important than the risible script and deadpan performances.