|ONLY GOD FORGIVES
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
We here at GTBP are big fans of Drive. We’ve made no secret of that fact and in case you want to read my 3 word review for the movie: “its f**king awesome”! When word got out that star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn were reteaming for a new movie called Only God Forgives, well the excitement knob got turned up to 11. As the trailers and clips for the movie started turning up and talked about quite frequently here and that initial excitement I spoke of before, well at least for me it never waned. Then came the news of the screening at Cannes. People booing the movie, walking out midway through the screening and reviews calling it a disaster, it was talk usually reserved for a Uwe Boll movie. Well, I have now officially seen Only God Forgives. Is it as disaster? No. Is it better than Drive? Not by a long shot. Will it be worth your time to check out? Maybe.
It’s very clear from the opening moments that Refn is not really interested in caring what you think about Only God Forgives. If you want to like it, its going to be on his terms. Like Drive, the movie is drenched in atmosphere, long drawn out pauses and violence. What it lacks it lacks though is a strong narrative and characters that you can care about, even if they are violent thugs. Only God Forgives works on some levels, but it’s not a fully formed movie. There are scenes that cut off way too early and others that lack any sort of visceral punch that some scenes desperately need. And it’s true, Gosling looks more than he talks, which works and then it doesn’t work. And when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.
Gosling plays Julian, a dude living in Bangkok, who along with his brother Billy (Tom Burke) run a boxing club but it’s just a front for their drug running business. Although you never seem them in any sort of drug relating activity, that part is told you (another frustrating thing about the movie). One night Billy kills a 16-year old prostitute…whoops. A cop by the name of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) hunts Billy down and allows the father of the girl to exact justice upon Billy (by way of decapitation). Billy & Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) comes to Bangkok demanding that Julian in turn exact justice upon Chang. But Julian has his reservations because of what Billy did, so Crystal takes the matters into her own hands to see that Chang pay for what he did. And it’s only after Crystal realizes Chang isn’t someone to mess that she plays the guilt card and forces Julian to help get her out of trouble.
Only God Forgives running time is a lean 1 hour and 29 minutes, which is great if you’re a comedy, but here, this movie needed to be about a ½ hour longer; If only for the reason to help flesh out the story and the characters more. The movie is based on assumptions and the biggest assumption is you already know what is going on with these characters. But since we really don’t have a clue (or a press packet sitting in front of us) there are times you’re left scratching your head as to what is going on. Because Refn is such a talented guy, he’s able to draw some value from a movie that could have been a real diaster. But Refn also makes the mistake of cutting scenes that could otherwise be quite thrilling, way too short leaving you to only dream about how awesome they could have been.
Thomas as Crystal and Pansringarm as Chang really stand out in this movie, with Thomas making the most with what she’s given. Thomas plays it mean and creepy (there are tones of an incestuous relationship with both Julian and Billy). Gosling as I stated before, does the Gosling stare he’s become known for, but there a couple awkward moments when the stare doesn’t work and he looks more lost than anything else. Maybe he didn’t have a press packet either.
Had Refn developed the story a bit more and not made things so esoteric, Only God Forgives could’ve been on par with Drive. As it stands now, it’s just a strange curiosity of what could have been. I’m not out of the Refn game, but a few more movies like this and I will be.