Only God Forgives, 2013, France/Thailand/USA
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm
'Only God Forgives' arrival to the screen has been almost as enigmatic as
the film itself. After Nicolas Winding Refn’s instant cult hit ‘Drive’ was released
to an overwhelmingly positive reaction and was renowned for being able to
strike the perfect balance of a mainstream hit and an arthouse one. Audience
goers would not be out of place in expecting ‘Only God Forgives’ to deliver in
the same way that ‘Drive’ did, but this film is a very different beast.
Julian, a drug dealer who uses a Thai boxing club as a cover, has his controlled
life thrown upside down when his Brother is murdered and his demanding mother
compels him to find his killer.
While ‘Drive’ was a film that had an undeniable entertainment factor, it is
very hard to say the same about ‘Only God Forgives’, this is a film that may mesmerize
and enthrall but it is better to not going in expecting a fun time or just to
see the film because it features one of the biggest stars in the business,
because disappointment will be eminent. ‘Only God Forgives’ pretty much
embodies what it means to be a modern art house film, there is an infinite
amount of long tracking shots, brooding performances and no relatable characters.
The question is though, is Refn’s film able to deliver one of the best films the
sub-genre has seen in the last decade? Meh, not really.
It’s not that ‘Only God Forgives’ is a bad film because it really isn’t. It’s
a film that is a mix between a pleasant surprise and major disappointment. ‘Forgives’
is slightly more coherent than I was expecting but because of this it becomes
almost a little too self-reserved and self-indulgent. If it were too have gone
all out and become this incredibly visceral experience, I believe it would have
been all the better for it.
Refn is a very talented guy who has been on a real hot streak, so even though
this is a good enough film, it still feels slightly disappointing. Refn’s 2008
film ‘Bronson’, it is able to convey and extract so many different emotions and
is a joy to watch, ‘Only God Forgives’ isn’t. I know it isn’t fair to compare the
two but the contrast in quality is undeniable.
For all its short comings, there are still things to appreciate here. It
really is a beautiful looking film, using an extensive amount of neon lights to
mend with the grunginess of the Thai underbelly. ‘Forgives’ also features a
substantial amount pretty interesting and bloody violence, the scenes in which
Chang is torturing other characters are easily the best of the film.
The stand out performance of the film comes from Vithaya Pansringarm as the
cold, calculating and vicious Chang. Whenever Pansringarm is on screen the film
is better for it. Chang is really the only redeeming character on screen. I
love the contrast his character has in the scenes where he has where he is a
complete badass and partaking in incredibly violent acts and then the ones
where he is singing karaoke in a bar in front of an audience of cops, the guy
is so awesome. Ryan Gosling is probably the films main selling point and while
I am a really big fan of the guy, I have to say that he really doesn’t add a
lot to the film. He isn’t bad but this role could have been played by anyone. Gosling
is very quickly becoming typecast as the brooding tough guy, which is kind of disappointing.
Coming into this I was really expecting Kristen Scott Thomas to overact like
crazy, but while there was instances of it, she really wasn’t as bad as I
though she may be. She actually gives the second best performance of the film
and I actually thought she was underutilized in the end.
‘Only God Forgives’ is not a bad film but neither is it a memorable nor necessary
one like I’m sure many were anticipating it to be. The film is a beautiful yet
morally empty film. ‘Only God Forgives’ is a fine film but it is more disappointment
than it is a home run. Hopefully the highly talented Refn and Gosling can collaborate
on another project that is as great as ‘Drive’ in the future. Damn, I really wanted to like this...