Only God Forgives

I forgive you for watching Only God Forgives. Especially since Drive (2011) was a very good movie by Nicolas Winding Refn also starring Ryan Gosling. But make no mistake, Only God Forgives is no Drive. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Drive. I don’t know if I can say the same for Only God Forgives.

But maybe I’ll talk myself into it by the end of this.

Granted, I don’t know what I just watched. There’s no way to truly describe what you’re going to experience watching Only God Forgives. I think I just watched a Kung Fu movie without the Kung Fu.

At least that’s what it feels like.

Stare1For a film that was reportedly about Ryan Gosling as a Muay Thai fighter, there’s very little Muay Thai involved. With Gosling and Refn actually training Muay Thai together, I was holding out hope for a little more focus on the fighting—maybe something in the spirit of that 1988 classic Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The closest thing Only God Forgives comes to Bloodsport is that Chang (played by Vithaya Pansringarm) kind of looks like he’s the spry, sadistic grandfather of Chong Li (the villain of Blood Sport played by Bolo Yeung).

If I can say something positive about Only God Forgives, this movie should stick with you for a while—for better or worse. Personally, I don’t agree with those who think there’s too much violence and gore. The visual effects are just gorgeous (particularly an early scene that lingers on the beaten remains of someone’s head) and the raw nature of the violence is justified in the revenge plot. The sound is also terrific, and it has to be that good given the lack of any dialogue.

Only God Forgives really isn’t an American movie for an American audience. This definitely feels like more of an independent ode to Thailand’s seedy underbelly and the mystic culture of Southeast Asia. In other words, it is a very pretty visual play of a fairytale that is incredibly pleasing to the ear. Do not watch this movie if you don’t think you can find any enjoyment from watching artistic angles, framing, lighting, sound, and other methods of filmmaking.

But if you do want to see Ryan Gosling stare, then you should never stop watching Only God Forgives.

Stare2And oh, is it a steely gaze.

Ryan Gosling may be dressed in a suit. He may be kicking someone with his boot.

But rest assured, Ryan Gosling will stare longingly until his heart is content. And it will never be content.

Gaspar Noé’s influence on Winding Refn (he visited the set and is thanked in the credits) is evident in Only God Forgives as the movie accomplishes. As grating and difficult to watch as Noé’s films can be, they’re always well-crafted and artistically enjoyable—well, as enjoyable as a 10-minute rape scene can be like in Irreversible. Refn has just as deft a hand as Noé as a filmmaker.

Stare3If I haven’t really discussed the story of Only God Forgives, there’s a reason for that. There’s not much of a story to discuss. According to Nicolas Winding Refn, the film is a thriller produced as a western, all in the Far East with a modern cowboy hero. Got all that?

Don’t expect Gosling’s character (Julian) to stick with you after watching Only God Forgives. Gosling really just seems there to lurch the plot along like a zombie stumbling in the woods. The two memorable characters in this movie are certainly Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) and Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), but it’s not in a good vs. evil sense. There’s no good in this movie. I challenge you to root for any character in Only God Forgives. Not even Gosling has any real redeemable value. Just sit back and enjoy the chaos that ensues.

Stare4As far as the story goes, Julian’s brother (Billy played by Tom Burke) is an awful fuck who does something unforgivable to a 16-year old girl. This event happens in the first 10 minutes and it sets off a chain reaction that radiates throughout his family in the most unfortunate sense. Crystal is the mother of Julian and Billy, and she is a heartless cunt that only seems to make things worse—much worse. Kristin Scott Thomas is terrific in this role, and her character is responsible for the only entertaining lines in the whole movie (it’s the best use of the term “cum dumpster” ever during the dinner scene with Julian and Mai).

Vithaya Pansringarm steals the movie as Chang, the Angel of Vengeance. Chang is a stoic, expressionless cop that is basically serving as God in this existentialist nightmare. And his singing is just marvelous, but what else would you expect from God? You can see that Only God Forgives is deeply rooted in Thailand’s culture with the repeated scenes at the karaoke bar with all of the cops watching Chang sing.

I can’t say I was bored by Only God Forgives as the pacing moves along steadily enough and there are enough minor things that are mesmerizing if you focus in on them. But I can’t blame anyone who takes nothing away from this movie aside from Ryan Gosling staring.

Gosling’s inviting baby blue eyes will stare through your soul and stick with you when you sleep.


Just try to avoid them. But don’t avoid Only God Forgives. Even if it barely resembles a movie at times.

3 out of 5 stars

  1. […] Review: Only God Forgives ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s