Only God Forgives (2013)

Billy: "Time to meet the devil."
By Nicolas Winding Refn
With Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm

I was quite looking forward to Only God Forgives, admittedly for Ryan Gosling, however, since I enjoyed Drive (2011)--also directed by Nicolas Winding Refn-- I thought it would be a good film.

The movie starts with Julian hanging out at a boxing club. After a fight, Julian meets with two others and we learn that one of them, Billy is his brother. We learn that they run a drug trade in Bangkok. Shortly after, Billy goes on a spree and starts engaging in erratic and violent behavior at different sex clubs. Later that night, the police arrive in one hotel and find Billy next to a prostitute that he raped and killed. The police however don't arrest Billy, and the head of the police decides to bring the father of the young underage, now dead, prostitute and leave the murderer and the father of the victim alone in the room. What is quite predictable happens and now Julian has to redeem his brother's death.

The movie starts off well, with some clever use of shadows and lighting. We are quickly put in the mold for the heavily violent atmosphere of brothels and drug smuggling. However this will remain the best component of the movie and nothing else delivers. The slow introduction to this rude and crude world never picks up on the pace and we are left watching everything in slow motion. If there is a fight or a kill that will happen, you've seen it unfold ten times in your head before it actually starts. And the dramatic music can't sustain such a build up for so long.

Of the main characters, Julian and his mother are both despicable and the audience can not possibly root for either one. Their acting consists mostly of blank stares and the rare lines that they speak are totally vain or trash talks from the mother who apparently flirts shamelessly with Julian, even though she vastly preferred Billy. The cop could have been an interesting character but that story line doesn't go anywhere either. Nevertheless, we do find out he is quite knowledgeable in the art of killing and torturing people.

The gore is not too bad but in a slow film like this it actually doesn't do much. The pace just doesn't fit the gore. The symbolism is pretty loaded but it is never certain whether something is imagined, dreamed or lived. This ends up making the film look like a collection of psychological clichés of a wide range, from the oedipal mother-son relationship to the recurring symbol of guilt--incessant hand washing--and other violent behaviors.

While I had initially liked the setting in Thailand, sadly, it is only further dwells into more clichés. I don't think I've ever seen a Western movie set in Thailand without dealing with prostitution (of minors). It is as though they feel Thailand has nothing other than that to offer to movies.

In all, the film is a major let down, where the good actors simply don't act, the story is cliché and the dialogues are entirely dull or rendered inaudible. The good aspects of a nice photography and shots are ruined by the extensive use of slow motion and build ups. It didn't manage to grasp my attention long enough to prevent me from wondering whether I really liked Drive or whether the good music and Ryan Gosling's presence had compensated for everything else.

I liked: Looks good if you fast forward. Thailand.

I disliked: Useless dialogues ("want to fight?"). Abusing two cool effects (red shadows and slow motion) doesn't make a good movie. Symbolic for shock value.

I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone. Maybe if you want to laugh gather a few friends and watch this in shuffle.


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