Only God Forgives wants to be an exploration into violence. It wants to be a mysterious and hypnotic experience. Nicholas Winding Refn writes and directs Only God Forgives and Ryan Gosling headlines, so the potential probably didn’t seem too far out of reach for the movie especially after the sleeper hit that was Drive.
However, what Only God Forgives tries to achieve has almost zero to do with what it actually is. This is a gorgeous and pretentious exploration into the thoughts of an adolescent male. Seriously. The movie feels like its from the mind of a creative and confused youth that has yet to know anything about the world. The movie is full of random acts of violence, people looking pensively into nothingness, Oedipal complexes and unexplainable hookers with unexplainable motivations.
The film, out Oct. 22 on Blu-ray, is hard to describe because its narrative nature is so foggy. It doesn’t quite reach Terence Malick idiocy, but it comes pretty close.
Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his brothers are drug runners that front as the owners of some kind of gym in Thailand. The oldest brother decides to rape and kill an underage girl one night. The officer on scene (Vithaya Pansringarm) has his own brand of justice, and lets the father of the deceased girl kill the man. The mother of the now deceased pedophile (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Thailand to make sure Julian enacts revenge in the name of his dead brother.
If it sounds like an over-complex story, that is because it is. How Gosling’s character fits into it all is a mystery even by the end of the movie as well as how most of these characters fit into this puzzle Refn decided to concoct. Julian has about ten lines and an incredibly limited role even though he is, in some respects, our protagonist. It’s hard to say Gosling does a good job because he doesn’t have a character here. Instead of bringing across a story and dilemma with his face and eyes, it’s as though Refn directed him to just look emotionless all the time and that’s what he does for his entire amount of screen time.
In fact, that’s what almost every actor does in this movie. Refn likes these long and slow shots of his actors conveying nothing. The only person given any room to show some character is Thomas who creates somewhat of a compelling “villain” in her small role.
Only God Forgives is an absurd movie that flatlines for almost its entire run time. Refn appears to have taken a juicy product and squeezed it of all its life. What we are left with is a dried out piece of fruit with almost zero to offer besides the gorgeous photography and engaging music composition.
There’s a way this movie would have worked. The strange and curious nature of the movie seems to be a representation of Gosling’s very lost and disturbed son. The script would have pulled off what it wanted to accomplish if he had truly become our window into this world. Instead the movie barely focuses on him and thus, loses all of its focus and just becomes a collection of random scenes of violence, weird interactions between characters and a whole lot of people doing nothing.
I suspect God Forgives will find itself a cult audience like a lot of Refn’s other movies. It is, at the very least, different in its nature which makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd. If you are a fan of the film then the Blu-ray edition is worth the investment. You can really dig into the motivation behind the film as there are a couple of interviews with Refn and a commentary by the engaging man. There’s also a look into the very, very good music by Cliff Martinez.
Only God Forgives is a mess of a movie, but it’ll find its small audience somewhere on video. Most movies do. However, let’s hope the director of Drive has some less pretentious endeavors up his sleeve come the future.