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Review: “Only God Forgives” is a dissatisfying staring contest with Ryan Gosling

Review: “Only God Forgives” is a dissatisfying staring contest with Ryan Gosling

Review: “Only God Forgives” is a dissatisfying staring contest with Ryan Gosling
July 19
11:33 2013

Preston Barta // Film Critic

Only God Forgives” | 90 min. | Rated R | Director: | Stars: , , , and

Rating: 2.5/4

Only God Forgives” is meant to be taken anyway you like it because that’s when art becomes interesting. Art is an individual experience. So my best offering is to show you this movie— love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it,” said writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn during our interview with him earlier this week.

Like director Lars von Trier (“Antichrist,” 2009), Refn is a bold filmmaker who is willing to test new waters and take audiences inside, often dark and dream-like settings. In 2008, he sent viewers into the mind of Britain’s most violent criminal in the devilishly entertaining “Bronson.” In 2011, he put a scorpion on Ryan Gosling’s back and directed him to spectacular effect in “Drive.” With his new atmospheric film “Only God Forgives,” Refn teams back up with Gosling to create an aesthetically pleasing but ultimately dissatisfying experience.

Check out our interviews with Nicholas Winding Refn and Kristin Scott Thomas.

“Only God Forgives” follows Julian Thompson (Gosling), an American expatriate and drug-smuggler living in Bangkok, Thailand, who runs a boxing club. After Thompson’s brother (Tom Burke) is killed for his malpractice, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) compels him to find the man whom is responsible.

Movies cannot be judged solely on whether or not their scripts work, it is a visual medium. There are other things at play, and “Only God Forgives,” written and directed by Refn, is a visual film. The cinematography from the talented Larry Smith, who worked with writer-director Stanley Kubrick on lighting “The Shining” (1980) and “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999), gives the film a toxic attraction and alluring gravity. The camerawork is crisp and clean, and the lighting is some of the best ever displayed on the silver screen. One cannot also forget the hauntingly beautiful score from Cliff Martinez, who worked with Refn on “Drive.” His tracks are sure to be studied among movie score scholars. However, there has to be more to a movie than what is on the surface. There is a difference between being abstract and being flat-out dull, unnecessarily violent and uninviting, and that is what “Only God Forgives” is.

Ryan Gosling and Vithaya Pansringarm exchange swings in "Only God Forgives." Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Ryan Gosling and Vithaya Pansringarm exchange swings in “Only God Forgives.” Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Besides the humor and intensity brought on by Thomas (“The English Patient,” 1997), the performances, for the most part, are uninspired, which is hard to say because Gosling is an extremely gifted actor. Gosling mainly stands around saying virtually nothing without any emotions whatsoever. While it is Refn’s intentions for his character to be that way, he almost has Gosling showing up Kristen Stewart from the “Twilight” films.

Lately, Refn has become known for his films of minimal dialogue, but the difference between what made “Drive” such a success and “Only God Forgives” such a failure is its lack of story and compelling characters. You cared for everyone in “Drive”— you rooted for them. But here, the characters are such disgusting and unnerving people that you could care less if they kicked the bucket.

“Only God Forgives” has an intriguing idea of good vs. evil told from the perspective of evil, but it is not as accessible as you want it to be, and it is nowhere near as great as it could have been. Ultimately, it depends on what the viewer looks for in a movie. Filmgoers will either consider it to be a high-minded piece of artwork or one of the biggest letdowns in cinematic history. So if you want to engage a peculiar film that you will not be able to wrap your head around entirely for the next few days, then give it a shot. But if you’re like me and prefer a film that features characters with redemptive qualities and leans more toward substance than style, then revisit “Drive” or “Bronson.” Even though “Only God Forgives” caused Refn and Gosling to falter, it leaves you eager to see what they tackle next.

“Only God Forgives” is playing in limited release, and is available on Video On Demand and iTunes

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