Friday, October 4, 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews one of 2013's most divided films

When 2011's DRIVE hit the screens in took everyone by surprise. Denmark's own Nicolas Winding Refn had made a fairly low budget (15 million dollars), but effective and tremendously entertaining film. I loved it and thought it was one of 2011's best films. The acting, directing with a nice turn as, usually nice guy Albert Brooks playing a low life snake. Cliff Martinez's score was one of his best scores, yet and Ryan Gosling who said very little in the film, still had an amazing presence on screen. How then did it all go so wrong for Only God Forgives (2013)? One can only imagine!

I thought I had seen the worst with the new Die Hard film, but au contraire. Only God Forgives has had a swarm of controversy since it started making its way around the film festival circuit. Sparking calls of outrage with its violence against women and all around general foulness that permeates from the screen which sent multitudes of critics running from the theater gagging and heaving.

Ryan Gosling (again) stars as Julian, an American in Bangkok who is supposed to be a drug dealer, yet we never see any evidence he deals drugs. He also has some kind of very successful fight club in the heart of Bangkok which then begs the question why he would be involved with drugs when his club is so popular? His brother, Billy (Tom Burke) is a violent man - rapist and pedophile who meets his end in the first few minutes and may I say justifiably so. He is a real piece of human waste. At the hands of his death and others like him is a local police man named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). He is a sword carrying, karaoke singing sadist that seems to delight in killing just about ANYBODY and he will even slice up women if he gets the notion.

When Julian's mother, Crystal arrives to claim Billy's body (or what's left of it) she immediately starts making friends by insulting the hotel staff and berating the manager. It would seem to me that a woman who is in the drug business with her two sons would send someone else to claim the body or at the very least be very discreet about doing so. Does she not know that stirring up trouble will cause undesired attention towards her in a business that seems to require keeping a low profile? But since nothing in this film is thought out or makes any sense at all, who cares?

Which brings me to Julian. Gosling could have phoned his dialogue in from his cell phone while sitting in his steam room in L.A. He has all of about 10-15 lines of actual dialogue. Yes, you read that right. There are scenes of Julian sitting, staring, looking and walking and for good measure he has a girl on the side whom he gets to do things to herself while he watches. There are shots of Julian with fists clenched, inexplicable waist shots of his hands on his knees That is the extent of his character. We know nothing else about him so we don't understand him and could not care less what happens to him.The strong silent type might have worked in DRIVE, but not here. There is a scene where Julian, his girlfriend and Crystal have dinner and Crystal hurls insult after insult at her son Julian and he says nothing. Not a peep. Why no retorts? Talk about passive/aggressive. 

No one in this film behaves normally or even believably not even the sadistic police man, Chang. Which brings me to Chang. Who is he? Why does he do what he does? Since most of his scenes require him to slice of appendages, I began to wonder if he was a vigilante, a rogue officer, or is this how it's done in Bangkok? Since there is no explanation into his character we feel nothing for him and know nothing of why he is doing what he does. His actions mean nothing to us as a viewer. There is another scene in which Chang tortures a man in gratuitous fashion by shoving spikes in all of the chap's orifices, and then he is seen singing karaoke at a local bar. Yep, apparently a 'torture one man and get a free song' night at the local karaoke torture chamber. If I were on the board of the local tourism chapter in Bangkok I would be outraged to see a fine city like Bangkok portrayed as a free for all drug and sadist haven.

Only God Forgives only has its cinematography and score (again by the always reliable Cliff Martinez) to watch. This is a pretty film to look at with its good use of lighting and camera work but other than that Only God Forgives is wretched; violent, empty and dirty and yet long at only 89 minutes. It is without an ounce of humanity or decency and the script written by Refn himself is something only a narcissistic egomaniac would justify. It's scenes of violence are so superfluously ghastly that they even made me cringe. Why would Refn sink to this level? I can only surmise that Refn, who wrote what can only be construed as a script for this film had some kind of a mental breakdown. He should have rehired Hossein Amini who scripted DRIVE to pen the script on this film. CLEARLY writing and directing Only God Forgives was too much of a strain for Refn.

This second outing ends up slow, pretentious, boring and complete utter waste of time. The characters are empty and one dimensional and the acting is so over the top I did not buy into a single scene. I would however recommend Cliff Martinez's amazingly ambient score which is available on Amazon on-line. It is the only saving grace to an otherwise horrid and disgustingly vile film. One might say Refn has done irreparable damage to his career with Only God Forgives, but who knows. Watch DRIVE again and skip this crap. Do I even need to say this is one of the year's worst films? Only God Forgives-1/2* out of 4.


  1. You have done a injustice to a great movie. From your perspective, it does seem bad (and I get it) but that perception is wrong or at least that's what not what Refn expects you to see. This was the same problem which "Fight Club" faced when it released and it was ridiculed but then later considered a cult classic. This movie is also destined to become one soon. My 2 cents here!

  2. I thank you for your responding to my review. However, Refn failed to illuminate anything with this film, It was without point on any level. The actors are sleepwalking through this film all the way to the bank and Refn has no real points to make. Fight Club might have been criticized when it came out but it made its point and people could then agree or discard it. I picked up its point quickly and appreciated Fight Club. Yes, Fight Club is a cult classic with good reason. Only God Forgives is a disgusting mess without any merit other than its slick cinematography and score. Watch Drive and Fight Club and you will see those are how to push the envelope and become cult classics. But I thank you and your 2 cents are worth more than that! Glad we can talk like 2 rational people and disagree but part as friends. Thanks again, Sandra!


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