Only God Forgives; my guess is that the title was chosen because the film makers realized they had such an atrocious piece of trash on their hands that they decided only God can forgive us after this. I didn’t go into Only God Forgives with any negative mindset. I rarely ever prejudge a movie based on what other critics say or what happens at Cannes or Sundance or any other film festival. You might remember that Only God Forgives was booed at Cannes. This doesn’t amount to much to me because other movies that have been booed I have liked, and having liked Drive, I was genuinely excited for Only God Forgives. Even through the first twenty minutes I was still invested in the movie. But it all goes downhill from there.
Only God Forgives tells the violent and slow motion tale of a guy, Ryan Gosling, who is looking for revenge against the guy who killed his brother. Then a sword wielding, karaoke loving police chief gets involved. Then Ryan Gosling’s mom gets involved. Then some Australian guy gets involved. Then the whole thing spirals out of control, very slowly. I mean everything is slow. The pacing? Like a snail. People walking and talking? Like that giant turtle from Never Ending Story. At one point I felt I needed to get up and check with the projectionist that everything was moving at the correct speed. The slowness and lack of dialogue doesn’t even add to the dramatic tension. During the quiet and drawn out moments in Drive, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the tension to explode and it’s so satisfying when it finally does. In Only God Forgives, I was only on the edge of my seat because I was sliding forward as I was dozing off. Ryan Gosling has less lines in this than Arnold Schwarzenegger did in The Terminator, but so does everyone else. I think the screenplay could’ve fit on a cocktail napkin, so little happens.
The subject matter is a little bit controversial to say the least and that isn’t necessarily an automatic fail. Personally, I think we need more movies to tackle sensitive subjects with tact and purpose. Only God Forgives seems to have chosen them based on a dare. No one feels remorse for their actions or goes through any sort of basic character arc. The only character who realizes that the circumstances under which his brother was murdered were maybe justified was Ryan Gosling, but he is still goaded into situations by his incest minded mother.
There are only two things that saved this movie from getting a zero rating from me; music and visuals. Nicolas Winding Refn has been someone I have been following with excitement since Valhalla Rising. He really knows how to make what’s on screen pop with colors and emotions, as well as make the music work with what’s on screen and almost make it a character itself. Only God Forgives continues that streak, but it is not enough to elevate the movie into something that I could recommend or even stomach a rewatch.
1 out of 11
Follow Jim on Twitter: Redsixx
About the movie
Synopsis: Ten years ago in Bangkok Julian killed a cop and went on the run. Now he manages a Thai boxing club as a front for a drugs operation. Respected in the criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty. When Julian’s brother kills a prostitute, the police reaches out to retired cop Chang, known as the Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the father to kill his daughters murderer, then restores order by chopping off the man’s right hand. Julian’s mother Jenna, the head of a powerful criminal organization, arrives in Bangkok to collect her son’s body. She orders Julian to find his killers and raise hell. Increasingly obsessed with the Angel of Vengeance, Julian challenges him to a boxing match, hoping that by defeating him he might find spiritual release but Chang triumphs. A furious Jenna plots revenge and the stage is set for a bloody journey through betrayal and vengeance towards a final confrontation and the possibility of redemption.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Run time: 90 min