Only God Forgives Review
Back in 2011, a Danish filmmaker named Nicolas Winding Refn made "Drive," starring Ryan Gosling. If you have ever heard me talk about it, its pretty clear I lost my mind over it. I called it one of the best films of 2011, a statement I still stand by today. Before "Drive," Refn made "Bronson" in 2008 with Tom Hardy. If I was personally in charge of the 2009 Academy Awards, I would have given the Lead Actor Oscar to Tom Hardy that year. The sentence you just read is how I describe "Bronson" to people, ever single time I talk to people about it. Even before that though, Refin made the "Pusher" trilogy and "Valhalla Rising," a set of films I am very eager to see.
Even though Refn and Gosling are reunited, and Gosling is pretty much playing the same character as he did in "Drive," "Drive" and "Only God Forgives" are different. In fact, I feel it is a disservice to compare "Drive" to "Only God Forgives," in any form or fashion. "Drive" was genuine, stylish and filled with exclamation marks of violence, "Only God Forgives" is very experimental and filled with harsh exclamation marks of violence. There is a reason why "Only God Forgives" went straight to VOD and ITunes and not the theater. I feel major studios had absolutely no way of knowing how to market this thing.
If you look at "Bronson," "Drive" and "Only God Forgives," Nicolas Winding Refn crafts simple story art and paints it with blood. Character development is never really is forte, he creates mean-spirited, low-lives and forces them to collide with one another. All the while this is going on, I am not sure Refn ever has the audience in mind. With that said, both "Bronson" and "Drive" are simple yet engaging movies that just happen to be grisly and upsetting. "Only God Forgives" is only grisly and upsetting.
The storyline for "Only God Forgives" is once again straightforward. Brothers Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Billy (Tom Burke) run a Thai kick-boxing front for their drug business in Thailand. One night, Billy decides to rape and murder an underage prostitute. A vigilante-ish cop named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) gives the prostitute's father permission to butcher Billy. Julian's mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) forces Julian to get revenge. The rest of the film is a blood-soaked race between Chang and Julian toward a vengeful finish line. It's a story we've seen many times before, and Refn does very little to make this experience unique or exciting, he only seems interested in having his characters kill in gruesome ways.
Gosling is good at what Refn gives him to do, but like I said above, he's a wordless mute who kills people in clever ways. I wonder if Refn and Gosling will work together again in the future. If so, I hope Refn brings new tricks. Watching Gosling sit and stare is beginning to become cliche, no matter how badass Gosling is. Kristen Scott Thomas performance is interesting to say the least, as she is a Real Housewife taken to the extreme. She plays the character well though and relishes in every line. Most of the characters are hard to judge because there isn't a whole lot of speaking going on, "Only God Forgives" is high on mood and atmosphere, which are both astounding. What the movie lacks quite a bit of is complete narrative.
I can tell you that there is great make-up work near the end of the film used on Gosling. I can also tell you that Refn has a knack for matching music to his scenes, and that is true in this movie too. The cinematography takes the mood of the film to great heights. This all just seems frustrating that a lot of good work went into a movie that just didn't take off like other films in Refn's filmography. I thought for sure that I would be blown away by this experience. While the movie is good, I am not head over heels in love with it. I am still a Refn fan, I just wish this was a better experience.
I just hope that Nicolas Winding Refn does not become the next M. Night Shyamalan, a promising director who had a great early career, but slowly and systematically destroyed it. I also hope he doesn't become like Terrance Malick and force is styles into self-parody. I want to love everything he does, so my fingers are crossed for what he does next. There is quite a bit of "Only God Forgives" that works, but there is just as much that doesn't work, which is frustrating and even a little disappointing.
FINAL GRADE: C