Only God Forgives: Movie Review
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Vithaya Pansringarm
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Ryan Gosling reteams with his Drive director for this new film set in the seedy underworld of Bangkok.
Because that's when his mother Crystal comes to town - and orders Julian to get vengeance for her, which sets him on a collision course with Vithaya Pansringarm's cop lord, Chang.
Only God Forgives is a detached, emotionless experience and one which is also polarising.
Gosling's pretty dead behind the eyes and emotionally blank as Julian and it's hard to really empathise with him as the pressure starts to mount; particularly because there's no real connection to his family's plight due to the repugnant nature of all of them. Most disgusting is Kristin Scott Thomas' towering bullying turn as a mother who pours forth such bile from her mouth that you'll be stunned into submission. When Julian tells her that his brother raped and then murdered an underage girl, her reaction is simply one of "She probably deserved it."
It's shocking in some ways and that's probably what Winding Refn set out to do as the neon-soaked, red lit and blood soaked series of scenes play out. Occasionally bordering on the surreal and almost Lynchian, scenes are artfully set up and beautifully executed but with a minimum of impact thanks to the soulless characters which inhabit the world within.
Vithaya Pansringarm's Chang is a menacing character, thanks largely in part to the calm and silence in which he carries out his role as the angel of death and bringer of retribution. Wielding a samurai sword and executing justice in a very traditional and honoured way, he's quite the character, prone as he is to cutting people's hands off or using skewers to extract the information he needs and then dishing out a karaoke number at the end of it all.
Talking of the violence of the piece, there's been much made of the ultra-violence on display, but to be frank, I wasn't particularly shocked by it. Granted, it's vicious and brutal in parts (Julian is taken down in a boxing ring by Chang in a series of precise blows) but it's because of the real lack of connection to the characters, that you curiously don't feel a thing as their fates and vengeance catch up to them.
There's no dispute that Winding Refn's created a hyper-stylised and ultra stylish piece of film-making with slow sweeping shots down long corridors bathed in reds and neons and an impressive soundtrack which showcases the swish of the sword and punctuates the surreal visions which plague Julian.
But if he'd spent a little more time deviating away from the artsy extremes of the cinematic form and concentrated a little more on developing the shades of grey of the main protagonists of the piece, he'd have created something which was stunning.
As it is Only God Forgives lives in a pit of ugliness, and proves to be a frustrating cinematic experience. Divisive and polarising, it's destined to be a staple of film class discussions and could potentially see many cinema goers expecting a repeat of Drive's slickness alienated and stunned.