Throwback Reviews: 'Only God Forgives'

By Michael Kaye

Only God Forgives (Review)

In my last review, I mentioned how Drive was an entry level film for director Nicholas Winding Refn, especially since it was his first Hollywood production. It's also the only film he's directed so far in which he hasn't written the screenplay. In other words, it was Refn restrained. Well, that is certainly not the case with his follow-up Only God Forgives, which once again stars Ryan Gosling.

Here's the story. Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.

I'm gonna tell you guys upfront, this is not an easy movie to review. Don't get me wrong, I loved watching this movie, I'm just not confident that anything I have to say will do it justice. Nevertheless, I'm gonna try my best to lay out a few of my positives and negatives.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

First off, I have to talk about the real star of the show, director Nicholas Winding Refn. Even though this is only the second film of his that I've seen, I think it's pretty obvious that he does not make movies for the faint of heart. This is a very ambitious director, who's not afraid to take the audience on a wild and crazy journey through his characters. Story is pretty much the least of his concerns, and I have to respect that. Not every single movie needs to be plot driven, there are other ways for a director to express his ideas. Refn is one of those directors who fully understands that film is a visual medium first, and with the help of Larry Smith's cinematography, we do in fact get some incredible imagery. I love the way Refn primarily works with highly contrasted colors, making each scene feel almost dream like.

The performances in this movie are phenomenal. Ryan Gosling can basically do no wrong as long as he's working with Refn. Just because he's not given that much dialogue, doesn't mean not working incredibly hard when it comes to the physical stuff, such as that brutal beatdown against Chang, played magnificently by Vithaya Pansringarm. I'd like to think of him as Bangkok's terminator with a badass sword. You do not wanna run into him unless you have a death wish. Other great performances include Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal, Julian's mother, Rhatha Phongam as Mai, Gordon Brown as Lieutenant Gordon, Tom Burke as Billy and Byron Gibson as Byron.

Do you like your action scenes extra violent, because that's exactly what you should expect from a Refn film. As I mentioned above, nobody is safe from Chang, who dishes out some pretty damn bloody murders, or at the very least extreme beatdowns, chopping off limbs and making your life a living hell. While Drive may have the more interesting villain in Bernie Rose, Only God Forgives's is much scarier.

Finally, I have to talk once again about the score by Cliff Martinez. While this time the music doesn't pop as much as it did in Drive, it still fits the setting and the tone of the film perfectly. I think my favorite scene is the fight between Julian and Chang, and the music really added a lot to that scene. There are also a few karaoke scenes that were nice moments of levity, giving the audience a chance to breathe a little.

For my negatives, I only really have one complaint. It's not big enough to drag down the rest of the film, but it's just enough to stop it from being perfect.

I wasn't exactly a fan of the overuse of slow motion. This is the scapegoat criticism for people who overall hated the movie, and I completely understand why. By using too much slow motion, it ruins the sense of urgency, and can kill whatever momentum the movie had going.

9/10 STARS

Overall, I really enjoyed Only God Forgives. Compared to Drive, this movie is much more raw in terms of Refn's directing style, which I'm really starting to appreciate. While perhaps not the most straight forward narrative, it's dripping with spectacular visuals, some great performances and an awesome score by Cliff Martinez. Your mileage my vary on this one for sure, but I'd say definitely check it out if you're a fan of either Nicholas Winding Refn or Ryan Gosling.

I really can't wait to hear what you guys have to say about this one! Have you seen Only God Forgives, and if so what did you think? Also, what other polarizing films do you love that others may hate, or vise versa? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where Blake Lively has to survive against a vicious shark in The Shallows!