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Review: Only God Forgives

Jul. 16, 2013by: Chris Bumbray
PLOT: Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a drug-runner living in Thailand, who operates under the guise of being a Muay Thai fight club operator. When his sadistic brother rapes and murders an underage prostitute, and is killed by the girl's father under the guidance of legendary local cop Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm)-,the angel of death- Julian's mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) insists he avenge the death.

REVIEW: ONLY GOD FORGIVES made it's controversial debut a few months ago at Cannes, where it was met with boos by the haughty international press only two years after awarding director Nicolas Winding Refn the best director prize for DRIVE. While not unanimously negative, many of the reviews leaking out of the festival noted that if DRIVE was Refn's attempt at adopting a mainstream sensibility, ONLY GOD FORGIVES was him doing just the opposite. Having finally seen it for myself I can say that many of the people who adopted Refn as the new Michael Mann after DRIVE will absolutely despise what he does here. However, if you're a little more familiar with his earlier work, such as the PUSHER trilogy and VALHALLA RISING, you may not be quite as taken aback.

Speaking for myself, I really liked it although not as unconditionally as I did DRIVE. This is a bleak, ugly film (not literally- the photography is gorgeous) but the ninety minute slow boil adopted by Refn certainly did a number on me, and it's hauntingly effective if unpleasant. If DRIVE had it's surreal moments, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is absolutely jampacked with them, with it even adopting a kind of David Lynch-ian (or more likely given the onscreen dedication Alejandro Jodorowsky-style) vibe here and there, mixed with Asian-action genre it plays hommage to. More than once during this film, I was reminded of a line from John Woo's HARD-BOILED where a character says give a man a gun and he thinks he's invincible, give him two and he thinks he's god.

Clearly Vithaya Pansringarm's character, the invincible Lt. Chang thinks he's God, and they way Refn shoots him he may not be far off. Certainly he's no mere mortal, walking through the notoriously crime-ridden streets of Bangkok putting right all of the things he deems to be wrong. Sure, he'll allow a grieving father to kill his daughter's murderer, but he'll also hack off that same father's hand (with his ever present sword) for allowing his daughter to fall into prostitution. Pansringarm, who's had blink and you'll miss him roles in movies like THE HANGOVER 2, isn't being billed as the star, but certainly this is his movie more than it is Gosling's. A small, middle-aged man with a paunch, Chang doesn't seem too dangerous at first glance, but appearances are deceiving in Refn's world. Just like how he made Albert Brooks a bad-ass in DRIVE, he makes Pansringarm a brutal force of nature, terrifying whether he's torturing a criminal or pausing (as he often does) to sing a heart-wrenching Thai pop tune at a Kareoke bar (with his fellow cops looking on transfixed).

As for Gosling, if people thought he was a man of few words in DRIVE, here he's essentially mute, with only maybe half a dozen lines of dialogue throughout the entire film (Pansrigarm has even less- not counting the singing). Still, Gosling, who's blessed with one of the more expressive faces in cinema, doesn't need much dialogue to convey his character. Julian is a shell of a man. He's not all that bad a guy, but he's thoroughly under the finger of his psychotic brother and mother; played more than than a a suggestion of incest by Kristin Scott Thomas, and heading towards some kind of judgement.

Thomas is probably going to be the one to emerge from this with most of the critical and audience acclaim, as this is a terrific departure from the usual classy Euro-arthouse roles she takes, having her play a trashy American lady-gangster with dyed hair and a push-up bra. The scene where she completely emasculates a mute Gosling in front of his date (to the point of ridiculing the size of his penis) is particularly memorable.

While there's a typical action/crime movie plot about a brother seeking vengeance, for ONLY GOD FORGIVES, Refn only uses that as a way to examine a Bangkok that's haunted in an almost biblical sense. The photography by Larry Smith (who also shot BRONSON) bathes the Thai underworld in neon blues and deep red's, which almost give it the look of being on fire. More than anything the story seems to be about Gosling's Julian being judged by Pansringarm's God, with his mother embodying a kind of diabolical, satanic presence (it's no wonder one of the first lines of dialogue is it's time to meet the devil). DRIVE's Cliff Martinez is back to provide another amazing electronic score, but this one seems to owe more to someone like Wendy Carlos (along the lines of her work for THE SHINING) than the Tangerine Dream-style synth vibe he put across in DRIVE. Also, the only pop songs used this time out are the ones sung in Thai by Pansringarm.

Suffice to say, anyone looking for another DRIVE isn't going to get it with ONLY GOD FORGIVES. This is a dark, experimental film, and if people were wondering why the Weinstein Company was sending this to VOD rather than a wide theatrical release, they'll understand once they see it. While not the most violent film I've ever seen, it's one of the more brutal, in the realistic, disturbing way that something like THE KILLER INSIDE ME was. This is definitely going to ruffle a few feathers, but I'm willing to bet that eventually it'll find it's admirers. Certainly I'm one, although for now I presume I'm going to be in the minority. On the surface the substance seems thin, but if you look past they admittedly flashy style, you'll see that there's something deeper and more profound going on here than you might think.

Source: JoBlo.com

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+0
2:44PM on 07/29/2013
This movie was not as good as "Drive" but definitely better than "Pacific Rim." Seems that if you actually make a movie without explosions with a different take on a protagonist, people hate it. This is why Michael Mann has a career and the Fast and Furious series is booming. People want a film where they don't have to think or makes them uncomfortable.
This movie was not as good as "Drive" but definitely better than "Pacific Rim." Seems that if you actually make a movie without explosions with a different take on a protagonist, people hate it. This is why Michael Mann has a career and the Fast and Furious series is booming. People want a film where they don't have to think or makes them uncomfortable.
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2:27AM on 07/25/2013

Awful movie

This was one of the worst movie experiences I've ever been a part of. Those who likes this movie are either high or mentally retarded.
This was one of the worst movie experiences I've ever been a part of. Those who likes this movie are either high or mentally retarded.
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+5
12:56AM on 07/22/2013
The lack of dialog and elaborate environments give each scene more impact while sustaining a twisted ambience throughout the film. I found the karaoke scenes especially interesting since it seemed to be a moment of vulnerability after committing a violent act for a character who was more or less stone cold. It is a movie that is rough to watch at times and demands a lot of patience from it's viewers but a great film over-all erring more on the experimental side than what most movie goers are
The lack of dialog and elaborate environments give each scene more impact while sustaining a twisted ambience throughout the film. I found the karaoke scenes especially interesting since it seemed to be a moment of vulnerability after committing a violent act for a character who was more or less stone cold. It is a movie that is rough to watch at times and demands a lot of patience from it's viewers but a great film over-all erring more on the experimental side than what most movie goers are probably use to.
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3:17AM on 07/20/2013

Quality Review

Really dug your writing.

I just watched it, and loved it. What if, now just go with me here - "Only God Forgives" is Driver's dream (or nightmare) at the end of "Drive" (presumably after he pulled over)? Mother's, Dead Family (or Friends), Being Hunted for Something That's Not Your Fault - a lot of similar themes. Plus "God" is just so damn raw with emotion. But regardless, great flick.
Really dug your writing.

I just watched it, and loved it. What if, now just go with me here - "Only God Forgives" is Driver's dream (or nightmare) at the end of "Drive" (presumably after he pulled over)? Mother's, Dead Family (or Friends), Being Hunted for Something That's Not Your Fault - a lot of similar themes. Plus "God" is just so damn raw with emotion. But regardless, great flick.
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10:00PM on 07/16/2013
I would rather have a boring Nicolas Winding Refn movie than an exploding Michael Bay movie any day.

I dug Valhalla & Drive for different reasons; still looking forward to this.
I would rather have a boring Nicolas Winding Refn movie than an exploding Michael Bay movie any day.

I dug Valhalla & Drive for different reasons; still looking forward to this.
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7:30PM on 07/16/2013
I would rather have a boring Nicolas Winding Refn movie than an exploding Michael Bay movie any day.

I dug Valhalla & Drive for different reasons; still looking forward to this.
I would rather have a boring Nicolas Winding Refn movie than an exploding Michael Bay movie any day.

I dug Valhalla & Drive for different reasons; still looking forward to this.
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6:59PM on 07/16/2013

Nice review

I knew it would be nothing like drive and I wasn't expecting it to be refn has the nitch to make movies where his characters barely talk. I hatedVALHALLA RISING it was very boring and pointless, but I am a huge fan of drive. And I love his directing style and loved how he doesn't stick to one film at all. He's doing what he loves and I am glad for that.
I knew it would be nothing like drive and I wasn't expecting it to be refn has the nitch to make movies where his characters barely talk. I hatedVALHALLA RISING it was very boring and pointless, but I am a huge fan of drive. And I love his directing style and loved how he doesn't stick to one film at all. He's doing what he loves and I am glad for that.
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2:26PM on 07/16/2013
Thankfully this is coming to a theater close to me so I'm ready to sit down in a dark theater and let Refn fuck with me.
Thankfully this is coming to a theater close to me so I'm ready to sit down in a dark theater and let Refn fuck with me.
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-3
1:46PM on 07/16/2013

dbl post

ugh dbl post
ugh dbl post
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-11
1:41PM on 07/16/2013

VOD says it all

tell me of another "great" director in his supposed "prime" who had their movie (which they brag about incessantly) not released nationally in theaters? Please stop with the next great stuff.
tell me of another "great" director in his supposed "prime" who had their movie (which they brag about incessantly) not released nationally in theaters? Please stop with the next great stuff.
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3:20PM on 07/16/2013
I think it says as much about the marketplace as it does the film.
I think it says as much about the marketplace as it does the film.
12:22PM on 07/16/2013

This is hollow pretentious crap!!

And so are his other films.
And so are his other films.
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12:19PM on 07/16/2013

The New Michael Mann?

I would never put this guy in Michael Mann's class, not even close, the thing with Drive's scipt was that it was written with Mann's tone, and the script was more representative of Mann's style, which Refn was only able to capture a sliver of in his direction of Drive.
I would never put this guy in Michael Mann's class, not even close, the thing with Drive's scipt was that it was written with Mann's tone, and the script was more representative of Mann's style, which Refn was only able to capture a sliver of in his direction of Drive.
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+6
12:15PM on 07/16/2013

Great review.

I appreciate it's even-handedness. I love Refn's films but I can also understand why some wouldn't. He creates vivid worlds full of interesting characters, but frequently punishes you for your expectations and anticipation of the plot.

I'm really looking forward to this. I'm no snob but getting nothing but more of the same at the theaters has become really tiresome. There is little art or mystery left in in cinema. The vast majority of films now exist only as mathematical formulas created
I appreciate it's even-handedness. I love Refn's films but I can also understand why some wouldn't. He creates vivid worlds full of interesting characters, but frequently punishes you for your expectations and anticipation of the plot.

I'm really looking forward to this. I'm no snob but getting nothing but more of the same at the theaters has become really tiresome. There is little art or mystery left in in cinema. The vast majority of films now exist only as mathematical formulas created to derive as much cash as possible from the audience. (Star A + property B) * (toys + product placement) - (budget + marketing) = C with C = net profits. It is an assembly line. Sometimes you can get great films from this process, but more often you only see what you have seen a million times before. Whether I love or hate Only God Forgives at least I know it will not be a market-tested mutant of various successful parts of various cardboard movies.
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1:46PM on 07/16/2013
I see it as the opposite though, he doesn't have any characters, I think that's his issue (well minus albert brooks). If I didn't know any better I would say the driver in Drive has mental disability just from the way he talks and the whole anti-social "i don't talk" to anyone vibe, same as with this movie and these characters (kristin scott was pretty great though) you don't care or know enough about them to care when all these terrible things happen to them. He seems to be weird for the sake
I see it as the opposite though, he doesn't have any characters, I think that's his issue (well minus albert brooks). If I didn't know any better I would say the driver in Drive has mental disability just from the way he talks and the whole anti-social "i don't talk" to anyone vibe, same as with this movie and these characters (kristin scott was pretty great though) you don't care or know enough about them to care when all these terrible things happen to them. He seems to be weird for the sake of being weird and hoping that the audience notices how weird he is.
3:16PM on 07/16/2013
I can see what you're saying but I don't think Driver's laconicism was an accident. My impression was that there was something wrong with him. Either in nature or nurture. Not just psychopathy but almost like a highly functional autistic. Based on exactly what you said: the way he speaks, shyness, outbursts of extreme violence. There are certainly archetypal character elements but I though the hint of real instability or dysfunction are what seperate the character from so many other cinematic
I can see what you're saying but I don't think Driver's laconicism was an accident. My impression was that there was something wrong with him. Either in nature or nurture. Not just psychopathy but almost like a highly functional autistic. Based on exactly what you said: the way he speaks, shyness, outbursts of extreme violence. There are certainly archetypal character elements but I though the hint of real instability or dysfunction are what seperate the character from so many other cinematic tough guys.

When I said characters I meant to refer to Refn's whole filmography. DRIVER I agree was basically a character study, but I thought certainly Brooks and maybe even Ron Perlman were good characters as well.
10:03AM on 07/16/2013
As someone who very much enjoyed the Pusher Trilogy and Valhalla Rising, it's good to know this is more in line with those. Makes sense, considering Refn wrote the script here, but he didn't write Drive.
As someone who very much enjoyed the Pusher Trilogy and Valhalla Rising, it's good to know this is more in line with those. Makes sense, considering Refn wrote the script here, but he didn't write Drive.
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9:23AM on 07/16/2013

Meh....

Didn't get the hype over Drive, it was alright but nothing ground breaking I thought.... Also I fear Ryan Gosling is trying to Clooney everything he does. I loved Lars and the Real Girl and the movie where he played the teacher with a coke problem but since then he has really gone down hill. Gangster Squad (vomit).
Didn't get the hype over Drive, it was alright but nothing ground breaking I thought.... Also I fear Ryan Gosling is trying to Clooney everything he does. I loved Lars and the Real Girl and the movie where he played the teacher with a coke problem but since then he has really gone down hill. Gangster Squad (vomit).
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9:31AM on 07/16/2013
Gangster Squad was pretty shite. I agree with you there.
Gangster Squad was pretty shite. I agree with you there.
8:02AM on 07/16/2013
Seeing it on Thursday in Sydney! Can't fecking wait!!!!!!!

I hate to use such a cliche, but 'haters gonna hate' .
Seeing it on Thursday in Sydney! Can't fecking wait!!!!!!!

I hate to use such a cliche, but 'haters gonna hate' .
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7:51AM on 07/16/2013

Really, guy?!

Proofread much, Chris?!
Proofread much, Chris?!
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9:38AM on 07/16/2013
You must be new around here.
You must be new around here.
7:14AM on 07/16/2013
I'm very excited.
I'm very excited.
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5:25AM on 07/16/2013
Can't wait to see this. Ever since seeing Drive, I've been anticipating their next follow up film and this film looks amazing. So I'm very pleased it got a high rating, but even if it had received a low score, my expectations would have still be high.

I love Refn's brutal, raw, emotional filmmaking and storytelling. We need more directors of his quality.
Can't wait to see this. Ever since seeing Drive, I've been anticipating their next follow up film and this film looks amazing. So I'm very pleased it got a high rating, but even if it had received a low score, my expectations would have still be high.

I love Refn's brutal, raw, emotional filmmaking and storytelling. We need more directors of his quality.
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4:59AM on 07/16/2013

I guess we'll agree to disagree

I went to the North American premiere of this at the LA Film Festival back in June and I didn't like it at all. Actually, most people in the audience didn't like it. I have to agree with Rukas in that it was boring. Thirty minutes in and I was wanting to fall asleep. I didn't though because, well, that would be rude and I didn't want anyone that worked on the film to see me sleeping through it. Kristin Scott Thomas is the only part of the film that I found myself enjoying. I think Ryan Gosling
I went to the North American premiere of this at the LA Film Festival back in June and I didn't like it at all. Actually, most people in the audience didn't like it. I have to agree with Rukas in that it was boring. Thirty minutes in and I was wanting to fall asleep. I didn't though because, well, that would be rude and I didn't want anyone that worked on the film to see me sleeping through it. Kristin Scott Thomas is the only part of the film that I found myself enjoying. I think Ryan Gosling is a great actor but I didn't like him in this. It just wasn't good. But, hey, if other people like it, more power to them! To each their own I guess.
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9:57AM on 07/16/2013
If I'd seen it, I might not read the review either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you didn't READ the review, did you?
If I'd seen it, I might not read the review either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you didn't READ the review, did you?
1:55PM on 07/16/2013
No I read it. I just disagree with it. Not sure why you think I didn't.
No I read it. I just disagree with it. Not sure why you think I didn't.
7:27PM on 07/16/2013
I fell asleep during Transformers. In the theatre.

Twice.
I fell asleep during Transformers. In the theatre.

Twice.
-10
3:42AM on 07/16/2013

8? No way

If this was anyone else but Refn, you'd have given it a 4. But everyone has a hard on for Refn, especially when working with Gosling, so you're trying to dig deep to give it a good score. It doesnt deserve an 8. The film is boring and full of itself without every really delivering on anything other than visual style.
If this was anyone else but Refn, you'd have given it a 4. But everyone has a hard on for Refn, especially when working with Gosling, so you're trying to dig deep to give it a good score. It doesnt deserve an 8. The film is boring and full of itself without every really delivering on anything other than visual style.
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9:30AM on 07/16/2013
Or... this is a crazy idea here, but bare with me.... maybe he just dug the film!
Or... this is a crazy idea here, but bare with me.... maybe he just dug the film!
9:40AM on 07/16/2013
So Chris' subjective response to the film is totally invalid, but your subjective response to the film is objective fact? Glad you're here to straighten us out. By all means, let us know what other movies we are allowed to approve of.
So Chris' subjective response to the film is totally invalid, but your subjective response to the film is objective fact? Glad you're here to straighten us out. By all means, let us know what other movies we are allowed to approve of.
+3
3:11AM on 07/16/2013
I'm so conflicted because this seems to be unanimously hated by almost everyone except those who sincerely like Refn's work. I've only seen Drive, so I may very well not enjoy this, but I am so intrigued, I just may check this out.
I'm so conflicted because this seems to be unanimously hated by almost everyone except those who sincerely like Refn's work. I've only seen Drive, so I may very well not enjoy this, but I am so intrigued, I just may check this out.
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-31
2:48AM on 07/16/2013
I know I'll get a bunch of negatives but I just can't stand Ryan Gosling. He's like a James Dean wannabe.
I know I'll get a bunch of negatives but I just can't stand Ryan Gosling. He's like a James Dean wannabe.
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+12
2:24AM on 07/16/2013
So its Arthouse-Kickboxer???
So its Arthouse-Kickboxer???
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3:22PM on 07/16/2013
Haha. That's awesome.
Haha. That's awesome.
1:40AM on 07/16/2013
Valhalla Rising is the strangest film I've ever seen. Sounds like there are parallels here between the BAMF Mads Mikkelsen and Gosling. Never realized Refn did that film, makes sense now I suppose. The more that mainstream critics dislike something like this, the more likely I am to enjoy it tbh
Valhalla Rising is the strangest film I've ever seen. Sounds like there are parallels here between the BAMF Mads Mikkelsen and Gosling. Never realized Refn did that film, makes sense now I suppose. The more that mainstream critics dislike something like this, the more likely I am to enjoy it tbh
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+20
12:25AM on 07/16/2013
You know from reading the reviews I'm preparing myself for something different from what the trailers are producing I should just take it as how I experience it
You know from reading the reviews I'm preparing myself for something different from what the trailers are producing I should just take it as how I experience it
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