Believe me this aint a scathing review of Only God Forgives, I immensely wanted to like this movie but I just couldn’t do so. Even after wandering in the IMDB forums learning new insights about the movie, its religious undertones and all just didn’t make this a better movie for me. It was enlightening for me, learning all those I’d failed to notice the first time but I don’t think I’d be able to sit through this a second time. There are people out there who is touting the movie to be ingenious but I just couldn’t buy it. I do agree that its one of the most visually arresting movies ever made, having striking resemblances with Gasper Noe’s Enter The Void or Cronenberg movies. Each scene in Only God Forgives is drenched in incredible visual artistry, with a never-before-seen neon and lights play, thanks to Larry Smith’s cinematography. I am still saturated with the visuals of the movie, though not much with its plot or performances.Ryan Gosling as the protagonist of the movie, Julian, felt like an extension of his character from Drive and had nothing novel to offer. Ofcourse he’s a mentally disturbed persona but its hard to look past a character who simply stares at things or barely says five lines throughout the movie. His silence does say alot, about his past and the relationship with his mother is further fleshed out when Kristin Scott Thomas is introduced. Where Ryan’s performance felt bland, Kristin’s was way too aggressive, way too show-offy but she still managed to bring out the anger, the frustration and some motherly (or maybe a more incestuous) elements on the table. Doned in a black and white attire, Vithaya Pansringarm plays Chang, the main antagonist of the movie. He is a crooked cop and allegedly a self proclaimed GOD who walks around serving his own brand of justice wherever he saw it fit, punishing his victims with his blade or granting them redemption by chopping their hands off. Yayaying Rhatha Phongam plays Mai. Her role never said anything actually and all she did was masturbate in front of Julian and despite him taking her out for a date, his feelings for her felt more monochrome. No character in this movie felt even remotely good, everybody had shades of yang. The concepts of God, The Devil and Redemption made an otherwise simple revenge-plot convoluted and slow.
If there is one thing that I can cling on to, despite however crappy the movie, is its score. Cliff Martinez’s score is not as magical as that of Drive‘s but it does most of the heavy lifting here. If not for the score, the scenes of the movie would have felt alot more slower. I’d absolutely adored Drive‘s soundtrack and score, the same couldn’t be said here as I can’t even quote one single memorable track. It did immerse me in an otherwise insipid pace but thats about it.
As previously quoted, Only God Forgives exudes copious amounts of violence and sexuality though the violence is gratuitous the sex, mostly, is implied. It also promises abundant ambiguity but Nicholas Winding Refn, in a recent interview mentioned what he meant with the plot and its characters, leaving no space for our imaginations. Had he to be ambiguous, couldn’t he have gone the Christopher Nolan way? Not telling us anything? Not even nodding what all the audiences have racked up their brains to?
While Drive and Valhalla Rising was accessible to a large group of audiences Only God Forgives require an excessive eye for details, a lot of time post-watching the movie and above all a forgiving attitude for its flaws and slow pace. Watch it for the visuals and the way its artistically taken, thats all that you can ever root for in Only God Forgives. As much as I want to love this movie, I am forced to give it a thumbs down.