Only God Forgives came in on my Most Anticipated List at number 3 at the beginning of the summer. Since then much has happened around this film including several boos at Canne’s Film Festival and a 33% critic approval rating at RottenTomatoes. I was hotly anticipating it because of its eerie and intriguing trailer, its star and director. The trailer promised a stylized look at the underground crime scene of Bangkok with shots of high minded violence from its acclaimed mastermind Nicolas Winding Refn with his Drive star, Ryan Gosling. Like all deceitful trailers, it didn’t hit those marks that I wished it would have.
The premise is almost simple, but soon unravels all over the place with confusing characters crowding the screen. The emotionless Julian (Ryan Gosling) owns and operates a kick-boxing club while pushing drugs to pay the bills. His brother Billy (Tom Burke
) is justly killed by the father of the daughter who he rapes and kills. When it’s time for Julian to kill the man who killed Billy, he lets him go. This is the inciting event that brings his drug queen mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) for her vengeance. While this is all happening, the un-uniformed chief of police, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) carries out his form of justice in execution and violence.
The film felt very slow for one reason: it was slow. Everyone moved in this weird half-paced blocking that distracted. Although the cinematography was very beautiful, it seemed to be beautiful for beauty’s sake. If you have seen an eastern foreign movie recently, you could tell that the pacing and style were quite similar to one from that corner of the world. Off-putting as it may be, it was a flair that western audiences aren’t used to and some I’d like to see more perfected.
It was a poetic exercise that didn’t have any substance to it. And if it truly had any substance, it was like a root of a dead tree buried somewhere in the dense earth. What I got out of the meaning (which is an honest stab, I don’t think Refn was trying to convey this) was that since “Only God Forgives,” we shouldn’t, otherwise bleep will hit the fan. It’s not our job to forgive, let justice be justice even if we have to carry it out ourselves.
Although it worked in Drive, Ryan Gosling can’t just put on a stoic face and call it acting. Not for every picture he’s in. To be fair, if there is one actor who can do it convincingly, it is Gosling. The other acting was as good as it could be for the writing they were given which seemed minimal.
Verdict: It was quite a letdown. I can’t recommend this to the average movie goer, but if you’re a cinephile, see it only at your convenience to form your own opinion.
Summer’s Best of List (So far)
1) Star Trek: Into Darkness
2) Pacific Rim
3) Iron Man 3
4) Man of Steel
5) Monsters University
6) Now You See Me
7) After Earth
8) This Is The End
9) Only God Forgives
10) The Great Gatsby
11) World War Z
12) The Lone Ranger