Only God Forgives (2013)

August marks the third month in the series of Nostra’s 5 Obstruction Blogathon! Woots! The third obstructions got me a little puzzled because the instruction is to write a review for a movie by copy pasting words from another review of the same movie.  I choose the dichotomic Only God Forgives from writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn, this film invites extremely diverse reaction and it’s fun to pick positive highlights of the film even from the negative reviews. PS: dear writers whose words i lifted for this article i hope you are not mad >_<
Nicolas Winding Refn was chosen by Gosling to direct Drive back in 2011, positively received by both critics and audiences as well as gaining recognitions and accolades to both director and leading actor. So when the two are releasing another collaboration in the form of Only God Forgive, a hyper stylized noir thriller, a lot of expectations and assumption went into it and invite strongly polarized reactions from critics and movie goers alike.

With what might seem like a story with minimalistic plot, Only God Forgives are delivered through means of visual storytelling with minimum mount of dialogue or monologue. This probably what triggers the style over substance assumption, as the film is dominated by scenes of a wallpapered room bathed in red and blue neon lights, made it seems like Wong Kar­ Wai had made a new film called In the Mood for Fear or In the Mood for Hate.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is an expat living in Bangkok whose boxing club is a front for an industrial-scale drug operation. When his brother (Tom Burke) murders a prostitute and is himself killed out of vengeance, the monosyllabic Julian must not only contend with his domineering and contemptuous mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), but also samurai sword-wielding cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Crystal, looking like a cross between Donatella Versace and Real Housewives, in her grief and annoyance upon loosing his first born, she still deigns to caress the biceps of her second son — and remark on his being less well­ endowed than his big brother, castrating and emasculating, not exactly mother of the year; she’s also the main reason for the siblings’ Oedipal­ inflected rivalry.      Julian obsession towards her mother, either motivated by eroticism or hatred (or mixtures of both) were most evident during the surrealistic scene and the dinner he shared with his girlfriend cum prostitute, Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam), and only become more pronounced at the scene where he found his mother, bleeding to death from Chang, but it did not stop him from probing the open wounds, yet it become a culmination point where he finally motivated to seek out Chang for retribution.

I think a lot of people expecting some sort of sequel of Drive and but Only God Forgives elevates its brutal acts of violence, minimalist style, and preponderance for mood over dialogue. If Refn’s Drive reveled in its sense of pace and purpose, then his new film embraces a slower – but equally graceful – style, with the camera tracking artfully through ornately decorated darkened rooms or over wet, glistening, Bangkok streets. Larry Smith’s cinematography, Beth Mickle’s production design, and the art direction by Russell Barnes and Witoon Suanyai are staggeringly good. Accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s ambient, mesmerizing, gorgeous score, one that weaves in Eastern influences without ever coming across as rote or lazy.

Whereas Refn weaved a fairly straightforward narrative about a taciturn getaway driver in his previous film, “Drive,” here he goes back to the more abstruse approach. Reality, dreams, and visions are intertwined, leaving the audience confused as to what exactly is going on. The film is dedicated to Chilean directory Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Winding Refn clearly delves into the surrealist master’s treasure trove of themes. In “Only God Forgives,” the director goes even further to suggest there is elegance to brutality. For many, it will be hard to look beyond the explicit violence and rather thinly drawn plot and characters, but there is much to enjoy and appreciate in the sheer cinematic verve, intelligence and elegance that makes Only God Forgives an immersive and brutally intriguing film.

Pansringarm’s physical­ presence is what throws most people off here because he’s a small, middle­aged man that seems like he would be helping you get a spare tire on, rather than chopping your ass off in half, but looks can be quite deceiving. With the deceptive physical presence, the man delivers his punishment with eerily emotionless surface. If Chang is a vengeful God character (his expression rarely changes as he veers between tenderly talking to his young daughter or drawing his sword from behind his back for yet another act of violence) then Julian is a man looking for answers and caught up in a world he is not at ease in, yet also locked into a complex and twisted sense of loyalty to his mother. With only 17 lines of dialogue in the while film, Gosling delivers a tightly coiled performance that deviates between submissive catatonia to moments of explosive rage. He has some of the most expressive eyes in modern cinema which can emote pained puppy dog one second and barely restrained psychosis the next.There is also the matter of Kristin Scott Thomas — Fiona from Four Weddings all decked out like a Malibu-trash gangster’s moll. Crystal is the only character in Refn’s battery who is defined by her dialogue. Her confronting belligerence and filthy mouth almost puts her in the league of a Tarantino creation and she is undeniably entertaining but she sticks out because this is not an approach Refn has taken elsewhere in the film .

In his director’s note in the film’s production notes Nicolas Winding Refn writes:”…we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.” Well, Only God Forgives definitely not safe. It challenges its viewer in such a high form of creative concept. Holy crap, isn’t it just mind blowing!


GENRE Crime, Drama, Thriller
DIRECTOR Nicolas Winding Refn | PRODUCER Lene Børglum | WRITER Nicolas Winding Refn | MUSIC Cliff Martinez | CINEMATOGRAPHER Larry Smith | EDITOR Matthew Newman | STUDIO Film District, Gaumont, Wild Bunch, Film I Väst | DISTRIBUTOR Radius TWC, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films | COUNTRY Denmark, France, Thailand, United States | RELEASE DATE 22 May 2013 (Cannes), 19 July 2013 (US) | RUNNING TIME 90 Minutes| RATING R for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content, and language
STARRING Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Ratna Phongam, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke

Visit IMDb | Trailer

Adams, Mark (May 22, 2013). “Only God Forgives” (link). Screen Daily. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Arikan, Ali (July 19, 2013). “Only God Forgives Movie Reviews 2013” (link). Roger Ebert. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Bradshaw, Peter (May 22, 2013). “Cannes 2013: Only God Forgives – first look review” (link). The Guardian. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Chris (August 3,2013). “Review Only God Forgives” (link). Three Rows Back. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Dan (August 2, 2013). “Only God Forgives (2013)” (link). Dan The Man’s Movie Reviews. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Debruge, Peter (May 22, 2013). “Review: ‘Only God Forgives’ ” (link). Variety. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Putra, Luthfi Prasetya (August 14, 2013). “Review: Only God Forgives (2013)” (link). Review-Luthfi. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Scott, Michael (July, 2013). “REVIEW: Only God Forgives (2013, Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)” (link). Cue Dot Confessions. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Stewart Sara (July 18, 2013). “Blood Flows, Very Slowly, In ‘Only God Forgives’ ” (link). New York Post. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

Wise, Damon (2013). “Only God Forgives: Bangkok Langourous” (link). Empire Online. Retrieved August 24, 2013.

6 thoughts on “Only God Forgives (2013)

  1. I enjoyed this despite some of the really negative reviews. I thought it looked fantastic and actually challenged the viewer to come to its own conclusions. There was a lot going on under the surface it seemed, but I can totally get why not everyone liked it.

    • i agree with you Chris. I too understood the polarized reaction.
      I ended up as the viewer who found the film fascinating and love the fact that the film demands interpretation and sparks discussion about it.

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