Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Hummingbird vs. Only God Forgives, two movies about a lone man taking violent action on behalf of the woman he loves.PremiseThe trailer for Hummingbird opens with a group of street toughs beating up Joey Jones, mysterious man with long, stringy hair, while his girlfriend Isabelle runs away. Man, when is Jason Statham going to come in and save that poor guy? Why can’t we see his face? That’s because (spoiler alert) Joey is Jason Statham. Never fear: like a reverse Samson, Joey shaves his head, puts on a tweed newsboy cap, and is transformed back into his action-star glory. Joey is hired as an enforcer by Mr. Choy (Benedict Wong), he puts on a suit, and beats people up. The trailer for Only God Forgives, on the other hand, offers almost nothing but a series of images. It opens with Jenna (Kristin Scott Thomas) talking about her son, Julien (Ryan Gosling), in voiceover. Cut to Julien in a fighting pose. Cut to Julien, expressionless, dragging a man by his teeth (!) down a hallway. Cut to Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) killing someone with a sword. “Wanna fight?” Julien asks Chang. Yes, yes we do.Advantage: Only God Forgives
Leading ManThere is a certain muscular appeal to Jason Statham. Over the last decade, Statham has cemented his place as the world’s biggest B-movie star. There is no shame in that game, and he continues to put sell cinema tickets with his signature blend of swaggering violence and terse catchphrases. When Statham appears on screen, we know people will be punched, things will explode, and it will all be great fun. Hummingbird delivers on these promises, as Joey is an avenging angel that takes from the rich to give to the poor, saves sex slaves, and befriends Cristina, a nun (Agata Buzek). He may be a psychopath, but he’s on the side of good. As the protagonist in Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling is more of a brooding dandy… at least at first. While both men wear suits that fit them like a glove, in both tailoring and temperament, Gosling is more likely to let a moment stand without speaking, where Statham will jump in with a quip. In short, Gosling’s manicured flair beats Statham’s uncontainable ferocity.Advantage: Only God Forgives
Leading VictimsBoth of these films center around the not-so-21 st century plot device of a man involved in violence in order to protect a woman. For Joey, the woman is first Isabelle, then Cristina, who, as a nun, is the ultimate innocent. Julien spends Only God Forgives trying to keep his mother, Jenna, safe from the likes of Mr. Choy, who holds a sword to her face. Jenna finances the boxing gym that Julien runs as a front for her criminal activities, which makes her a less-than-sympathetic figure. Julien fights the good fight, as any good son does for his mother, but the woman he protects may be as bad as, or worse than, the men he protects her from.Advantage: Hummingbird
DirectorHummingbird is the first directorial effort of Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things. He wrote the script for Hummingbird, so even though he’s branching into a new field, at least he’s working with familiar material. Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Only God Forgives, is an auteur in every sense of the word. His totalizing vision has included the iconic (Bronson), the hallucinatory (Valhalla Rising), and a violent criminal classic (Drive). Only God Forgives is his ninth theatrical feature and looks to be another visual tour de force. His use of contrasting color as well as his insistence on letting the image, rather than the script, do the talking establishes him as a confident, forceful filmmaker. Steven Knight may well turn into a director of such vision, but Winding Refn is already there.Advantage: Only God Forgives
MusicThe music in the Hummingbird trailer is pretty standard fare. A low score with ticking-clock background gives way to a sort of Tangerine Dream pastiche of pulsing ambient electronic music. There is a formula for how action movies should sound, and Hummingbird fits it to a tee. Like Drive before it, Only God Forgives has a more interesting take on the soundtrack options available. The song in this trailer is by a Thai group called Proud. Loosely, translated, it means “She’s a Dream,” and its dreamy, plinking quality contrasts perfectly with the violence onscreen. Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Cliff Martinez combined to create an iconic soundtrack for Drive, and Only God Forgives looks no different.Advantage: Only God Forgives
The VerdictHummingbird will probably be an okay-to-good action movie. Jason Statham is nothing if not reliable, and Knight has enough of a track record to suggest that stepping into a more prominent role is probably overdue for him. Only God Forgives reunites the creative team behind Drive, and has a chance to replicate the success of that film. While it could, as any movie could, turn out to be a mess of unmet expectations and broken promises, the smart money is on Gosling and Winding Refn to create another beautiful film.Winner: Only God Forgives
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.