Only God Forgives (2013)


Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast:  Ryan GoslingKristin Scott ThomasVithaya Pansringarm
Plot:  Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  90min
Rating:  M18 for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language.

Time to meet the devil.

I strongly believe this will become a cult film that will have a special place in director Nicolas Winding Refns filmography in a decade's time.  Now severely misunderstood by most critics, Only God Forgives will also turn fans of Ryan Gosling off and the moviegoing horde in general.  On face value, it is a reprehensible film, of shocking violence and disturbing incestuous themes, but Refn finds dark beauty in his morbid world. 

And this is what I think of the film:  It is beautiful and the kind of provocative cinema that is both intriguing and alluring at the same time, something David Lynch would have been proud of making.  However, you would need to be in the mood for a visually and thematically challenging art film to fully appreciate its artistic sensibilities.

Gosling plays Julian, who doesnt quite care much when his older brother is brutally murdered after the latter raped and killed a young woman.  Julian's mother, played by an ice-cool and bad-ass Kristin Scott Thomas, flies from the US to Thailand where the film is set, seeking justice for her first son. 

The problem is that revenge is sought on a corrupted Thai cop named Chang with dealings in drugs, but more crucially he tortures and kills those who cross him.  He uses sharp objects, in particular his beloved samurai sword, on the human body.  The results are not exactly pleasant to watch.  But in all defense, the ultraviolence fits the haunting, surrealistic tone of the film, and coupled with some of the best cinematography work I've seen this year, Only God Forgives is a tour de force in the art of filmmaking.

Refn's film moves at a deliberate pace with long takes of a brooding Gosling ruminating (or hallucinating) on the poetics of violence.  There is little dialogue, but when it comes it takes on a psychosexual flavour that is weirdly funny.  The use of music in Only God Forgives is also brilliant, from diegetic songs sung that are tonally reminiscent of Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) to a range of electronic music, percussion-heavy beats and deep, unsettling use of strings. 

Only God Forgives is one of the year's most accomplished offerings.  It is a showcase of Refn's supreme mastery of his craft;  it is also a brave albeit experimental follow-up to the critical sensation that was Drive (2011).  Judging by some of the walkouts from the theater I was in, his latest feature will be extremely difficult to sell to the wrong crowd, let alone the right one.

Verdict:  Refn's supreme mastery of tone, deliberate pacing and use of music makes this ultraviolent and psychosexual film one of the year's most haunting.


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