Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives"

Only God forgives and even He will be hard pressed to give the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn a pass. Those who discovered the Danish director following the crossover success of Drive are likely to be disappointed as well. Only God Forgives shares the previous film’s star Ryan Gosling and a strong sense of style, but it doesn’t have the love story or noirish plot to give it a backbone. The result is a garish, unpleasant jellyfish of a film lacking even a sting.

With another blank non-performance perfect for one of Kuleshov’s film experiments, Ryan Gosling drifts through Bangkok as Julian. When his older brother Billy is killed in retribution for senselessly murdering a young prostitute, Julian’s drug-pushing mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) shows up expecting him to take revenge. On the other side of the law is Chang, a stoic Thai cop who metes out his own notions of justice with the sharp edge of a sword. Cue showdown music.

On the bright side, Only God Forgives at least looks great. Substituting Drive‘s nighttime LA for nighttime Bangkok, it’s all hot reds and cool blues lifted from one of David Lynch’s sensual dreamscapes but lacking the surrealism. It’s also lacking Lynch’s sense of mystery and magic.

Classy Kristin Scott Thomas seems to be enjoying herself and she makes the most of it getting down and dirty as a Freudian nightmare of a mother, but the character is neither as shocking or as funny as Refn thinks she is. There’s a scene where she crudely talks about the relative penis sizes of her two sons over dinner. Jaws are meant to drop open, and this scene got the biggest reaction from the audience, but it’s all so calculated it doesn’t have the punch it’s so obviously meant to. It’s not Scott Thomas’ fault. It’s Refn whose characters aren’t people. They’re stylistic flourishes posing as archetypes. With less Gosling and more Scott Thomas vs. Vithaya Pansringarm’s sword-wielding, Karaoke obsessed Thai supercop (part monk and part Dirty Harry), Only God Forgives might have at least brought entertainment value. Instead, it’s mostly just a lurid wallow with Scott Thomas’ pig of a mother lording it over Gosling’s runt of the litter.

There’s a scene in Refn’s Bronson where a character smears his own shit all over himself and all over the walls of his cell. I kept thinking of that as Only God Forgives did the same thing to the movie screen and the audience at the Grand Theatre Lumiere here at Cannes. To be fair, the film was probably met with a few more cheers than boos among the people I saw it with. I think those who were turned on by Refn’s pre-Drive work are the most likely to be enthusiastic.

8 Responses to “Cannes 2013: Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives””

  1. “The result is a garish, unpleasant jellyfish of a film lacking even a sting.”

    Ha! Great metaphor! But not very good news for those -like myself- who liked DRIVE and the promising career of Nicolas Winding Refn. Sounds like Gosling, who gave a terrific performance in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was practically a no-show. Ah well, you have some great ones ahead of you in the coming days!

  2. Have you seen any of Refn’s pre-Drive films, Sam?

  3. I did indeed Craig. I saw both the first PUSHER film and VALHALLA RISING and rather liked both I must say. But for me DRIVE is his best film.

  4. “There’s a scene in Refn’s Bronson where a character smears his own shit all over himself and all over the walls of his cell. I kept thinking of that as Only God Forgives did the same thing to the movie screen and the audience at the Grand Theatre Lumiere here at Cannes.”

    Ouch! Sounds like a big disappointment after the excellent Drive.

  5. I admire the creativity of Bronson, and the lead performance, but overall it felt heavy-handed and derivative. It sounds like you really didn’t find this appealing, but if it reminded you of Bronson then I’m not surprised. Oh well.

  6. That doesn’t bode too well for me, I loved Drive and I’d like to see Pusher, but Bronson and Valhalla Rising left me cold.

  7. Take the heavy-handed stylistics and shock value of Bronson, subtract Tom Hardy’s magnetic lead performance and add a narcoleptic Gosling turn that borders on self-parody and that’s Only God Forgives.

    The worst movie I’ve seen in a while and particularly appalling in this context. It was like going into a four star French restaurant and being served a cold cat turd on a paper plate.

  8. “It was like going into a four star French restaurant and being served a cold cat turd on a paper plate.”

    Someone gifted at ‘shopping images needs to put this quote of Craig’s on an Only God Forgives poster. :-)

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