“Only God Forgives” Not Receiving Much Forgiveness

Ryan Gosling in "Only God Forgives" (courtesy of Bold Films)

You know your film isn’t off to a good start when the first headlines revolve around it being booed at the Cannes Film Festival. As was the unfortunate beginning for “Only God Forgives,” the second collaboration between director Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling (who first worked together in the critically acclaimed thriller “Drive”).

American audiences got their first look at the film during the LA Film Festival in late June and the critics haven’t gotten any kinder. Some have even gone to predict this as Gosling’s first flop. The movie finally premiered in the U.S. on July 19th, giving Gosling fans a chance to decide what they think of the film for themselves.

“Only God Forgives,” starts with the brutal murder of an underage prostitute. Senior police officer Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who acts as executioner throughout the film, finds the prostitute’s father and allows him to kill the murderer. We soon find out that the prostitute killer, Billy (Tom Burke), was the brother of a drug-smuggler by the name of Julian (Ryan Gosling). The film follows Julian (Ryan Gosling) as he attempts to avenge Billy’s murder, at the request of his mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Once Crystal arrives in Thailand to retrieve her first-born’s body, Julian is ordered to find the killer. Julian already knew it was Chang’s righteous doing that ended his brother’s life, and wanted to stay away. But Crystal was relentless. The film goes on a wild goose chase, Crystal after Chang, Chang after Crystal, until finally Chang and Julian meet face to face.

While the synopsis above seems to make for an interesting film, don’t be fooled. Audiences are left squirming in their scenes due to the over-the-top violence, but also due to the boredom. The brutality in the violent acts did not detract from the lack of dialogue, and overall slow pace of the film. Gosling’s performance, probably (hopefully?) intended to be stoic, seemed to be nonexistent. As a fan of Gosling, it’s disappointing to write the following sentence: he was just there, a blank face with no emotion and it wasn’t enough. However, the film did have one saving grace, Kristin Scott Thomas. The most memorable scene of the movie (perhaps due to the shocking, and admittedly amusing, dialogue) takes place during a   dinner between Crystal, Julian, and a prostitute he hired to pretend to be his girlfriend. After Julian is completely emasculated by his mother, he tells her of Billy’s wrongdoings, to which she replied, “I’m sure he had his reasons.”

Perhaps Nicolas Winding Refn focused too much on style, which for some people may have hidden the little-to-no substance the film provided. The film was aesthetically pleasing, thanks in part to cinematographer Larry Smith, but the tone was never fully settled. Was this supposed to be a voyeuristic, sadistic violent film, or a highbrow art film? Perhaps neither, and somewhere in the middle-weird void between the two, the film was completely lost.

The film is currently on limited release (so far only 78 theaters) in the U.S.

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  1. Pingback: “Only God Forgives” Not Receiving Much Forgiveness – Hollywood … | onlyintimessquare.com

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