Review – Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives Poster

Re-teaming with Drive director, Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling stars as Julian, an American in Bangkok whose brother has just been killed. Pushed by both his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the police officer who allowed the murder to take place (Vithaya Pansringarm) stumbles down a path of bloody and bizarre justice.

I thought Drive was phenomenal and took the largely negative reviews of Only God Forgives with a grain of salt, imagining that many critics just didn’t like the excessive violence and heavily stylized aesthetic obvious in the trailers. Or maybe Gosling was just too stoic for their taste. One of my favorite films of the year is The Place Beyond the Pines. Stoic Ryan Gosling I have no problem with. No, this film is just bad.

From the grating soundtrack to the painstakingly (obviously intentionally so) bland character performance, no film has made me so eager for the credits roll as this one. Gosling wears one expression for the vast majority of the film, and that is one of vapid blankness. Granted, this makes the smirk he shows 2% of the time seem emotionally charged, and the one time he raises his voice especially effective, but for the majority of the time he sleepwalks lifelessly through this fever-dream of a film. That is, in fact, true of just about every other actor with the exception of Thomas, who injects the only example of life into this film as contender for worst mother of the year.

The soundtrack blares with over-dramatic bellows, non-stop, almost comically giving importance to every scene of slowly walking, expressionless and voiceless people. The whole thing, in fact, feels more like an experimental music video with high intensity filters drenching the scenery and almost non-existent dialogue.

If I wasn’t convinced otherwise, I would be tempted to label this as Refn’s attempt to mock the genre of art house cinema that takes itself too seriously. Either that or an experiment at how seriously people will take a film simply because of who the director and stars are. Those are the only two explanations I would find acceptable here.

I am quite sure there are many metaphors and serious artistic statements made throughout, but in a manner that could only possibly make any sense to whoever dreamed them up in a drug induced nightmare. The whole thing is very dream-like and hallucinogenic with nary a shred of cohesive plot or story.

Thankfully, this is a relatively short film, though if anyone in the movie moved or spoke in even close to a normal speed for a human being, it would easily cut that time in half. There is slow and deliberate and then there is deliberately slow. Which is fine, except that everyone seemed to imagine themselves in bullet-time in almost every single scene, stretching them to an uncomfortable breaking point. I have been to movies that have placed me at the edge of my seat with anticipation. This is the first film I have seen that has put me there because I am resisting the urge to smack the onscreen characters into doing something. Anything.

I am confident that there are those who would chide me on my views, saying that I just didn’t get it. My response to them would be be no, I didn’t, and did they? Because if a film is good simply because you’re sure it’s supposed to be, is it really actually any good? It’s an interesting experience, I will grant you that. It is interesting enough that it may be worth seeing simply because there is a good chance you have never before seen something quite like it, and probably won’t again. I pity, though, those fans of Gosling who come to see him, knowing nothing about the film. I pity them more if they stick through the entire film on the futile assumption that he is going to do something to make it all worth it in the end.

Mrs. Hamster says:

“The characters in this movie walk and talk slower than slow zombies and there is way too much red and green. This may be the worst movie I have ever seen – even Ryan Gosling couldn’t save it.”

My Rating: One out of Five Hats



Only God Forgive is currently sleepwalking through 78 theaters in limited release