Only God Forgives Movie Review
A dark dreary tale of revenge and violence, Only God Forgives continues to show acclaimed director Nicholas Winding Refn's unique skill and vision... but fails to deliver any emotional connection. Only God Forgives is oppressively dark. And when I say 'dark,' I mean not only thematically; quite literally Bangkok appears to be a city where light bulbs haven't been invented. While it succeeds in capturing the city's underbelly, such a grim setting is just too much to take for an entire film.
This movie makes Drive look like a rather light effort.
The story centers on Julian (Ryan Gosling), who runs a sleazy boxing club that is actually a front for a successful drug business. After his brother Billy brutally murders a young prostitute, a mysterious retired policeman (Vithaya Pansringarm) at the scene allows the father of the girl to savagely murder Billy on the spot. Seeking vengeance for the death of her favorite son, Julian and Billy's mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) flies to Bangkok and sends Julian and his group out to kill anyone involved with Billy's death. And thus begins a vicious cycle of violence that spans the rest of the film.
If that description alone is not dark enough, the film is filled with Refn's trademark bursts of extreme violence. Chang's choice of weapon is his short samurai sword, which he quite literally appears to pull from nowhere and as one can imagine does quite a bit of damage with.
Sure, the film looks slick, but the overall effect for me was very hollow. I took nothing away from it. The story of vengeance is one that has played out in similar fashion hundreds of times and usually to mediocre results, as is the case here. The straightforward approach to a 'violence is cyclical', 'eye for an eye' story seems like a step backward for a director that delivered such nuance and surprise in his last film. Morally and thematically, there is nothing new here to explore.
Foremost, the characters, intentionally so, constitute one of the most despicable group of subjects ever assembled in a film. Outside of Julian's briefly shown "girlfriend," who is actually just a prostitute, everyone here could die in an explosion and the world and viewer would be better off. With that said, Kristen Scott Thomas may be one of the only reasons to check out the film as she embodies a character so despicable and manipulative I wanted to see her in every scene. Her character's introduction, when she checks into the hotel, and a later dinner scene with Julian and his date, are deliciously evil. But there is no character here that is really redeemable in any way. Julian makes two morally correct choices in the film, but neither has much impact and the sum total of his almost mute character is minimal.
If you thought Ryan Gosling spoke and moved slowly in Drive, his character here magnifies that tenfold. There are inanimate objects in the film that have more life to them.
Refn to me is still one of the strongest and most interesting directors working today and certainly this film seems to be a complete and unified vision. However, it's troublesome that it misses the mark so thoroughly on creating any emotion and delivering a unique tale. I'm sure others will tell me there is a much deeper meaning to the film, but this overly bleak entry leaves little motivation for me to care.
Review by Random FilmJabber Guy
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.