Only God Forgives (2013)
Critic Consensus: Director Refn remains as visually stylish as ever, but Only God Forgives fails to add enough narrative smarts or relatable characters to ground its beautifully filmed depravity.
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Critic Reviews for Only God Forgives
Directors are always digging around in their psyches for material - David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lars von Trier ... Refn's anxiety seems out to top theirs. But there's no joy or folly or transcendence. It's a one-dimensional video game of death.
Ryan Gosling and his "Drive" director, Nicolas Winding Refn, sail into the heart of darkness and emerge with a trinket of crackpot porno kitsch.
Style over substance doesn't really tell the half of it: you can bathe a corpse in groovy light and dress it in an expensive suit, but in the end that rotting smell just won't go away.
This is one of the most shocking and one of the best movies of the year.
Refn's nerve is admirable, even if his film often borders on unwatchable.
Audience Reviews for Only God Forgives
Refn's Lynchian nightmare never makes you think that he is not in absolute control of his gripping arthouse work, as he masterfully crafts a hypnotizing atmosphere of otherworldliness that feels like a hard punch in the guts with such visceral power and crushing intensity.
After Drive became a surprise hit that came seemingly from out of nowhere, the masses became familiar with Nicolas Winding-Refn. His follow up to that film, which is this one, sees him reunite with Ryan Gosling. Given the circumstances, the anticipation for this one was understandably high. And...how the film actually is compared to its trailer (which was amazing) is something that is still highly debated months after its release. This is a very polarizing film, and perhaps one of the most divisive to come out in quite a while. So what's this all about that has audiences and critics so divided? Julian is an American in Thailand who runs a fighting club that is actually a front for a major drug operation. His brother rapes and murders a young prostitute, and is then himself killed by the girl's dad who was prompted to get his revenge by a mysterious law enforcement figue. In the wake of all this, Julian's domineering, cruel, and manipulative mother (a major underworld figure) forces her remaining living son to get revenge on those responsible for the older (and favored) brother's death. Sounds like a brutal and amazingly engaging plot, but in reality, things aren't quite that way. Basically almost all of what I just described isn't actually given in the film, but comes from the marketing and promotional materials. There's not much plot, and very little that actually happens on the surface. There's less plot, dialogue, character development, and even characters than in Drive. Instead we get vaguely drawn ideas of characters or character types, and a bunch of stuff going on, albeit way under the surface. Even then, what the film is about is something very open to interpretation. It's also got an amazingly strong sense of mood, tone, and atmosphere, as well as some gorgeous and super expressive cinematography. This is a film that is about something, but it makes you work for it. That's either good or bad, depending on your perspective. I personally wanted to love this movie, but initially came away from it quite confounded. I've let it stew for quite a while though, and have warmed up to it a bit more, but still have some problems with it. I think it's a bit too slow, pretentious, and vague for its own good. Yeah, I don't always like to get spoonfed everything, but this film doesn't feed the viewer enough. It is primarily driven by mood, tone, and atmosphere, and that's kinda cool, but I think it relies too much on this, and ends up coming off as half baked and undercooked more often than not. The story is really cryptic, kinda confusing, and doesn't make a whole lot of sense...that is at least not initially, and after one viewing. I like that Gosling seems to be preferring this type of movie over mainstream stuff, but I think he'd be wise to choose more films that are artsy without being so vague and thinly developed. He does okay here, but I am being a tad kind. The real breath of fresh air is Kristin Scott Thomas who plays the only character that actually has emotions, thoughts, and feelings, or at least ones that are clearly depicted. She's a saving grace of this film, and really needed to be in it more. More characters like her in general would also have been nice. There are some neat sequences throughout, but given how the film explains little, and sometimes doesn't give proper context or payofff, their power is limited, and, in the case of a pivotal showdown, the results are sadly underwhelming. All in all, this is a mess, but it's fascinating and hypnotic. It's a borderline failure for me, but since it looks cool, has some good moments, and provokes strong reactions and conversations, I have no problem giving it the faintest of recommendations.
It's undeniable that "Only God Forgives" completely brought the momentum of director Nicholas Winding Refn to a screeching halt critically. Universally panned, the film both cryptic and puzzling was not what the countless admires of 2011's hit "Drive" were expecting. Instead of an accessible thriller with the trappings of European art house, "Only God Forgives" is a baffling, almost Lynchian art house oddity. Viewers with only "Drive" as reference will be surprised to put it lightly. Those who have seen "Valhalla Rising?" Not so much. I never expected to see Refn replicating his previous hit here, and I was right. For the insane, hypnotizing, occasionally impenetrable anomaly it is, "Only God Forgives" worked on me. Refn's film is a cohesive vision; through a highly interpretive narrative, we never feel lost as conventional storytelling goes off the rails. We are in the grasp of Refn's indulgent fever dream, and I was enthralled by a big chunk of it. Both beautiful and grotesque, "Only God Forgives" can feel a little off-putting in it's idiosyncrasies and for some the brutal violence and atmosphere, but the sight of some of the years most striking imagery (gorgeous photography from cinematographer Larry Smith) and art direction were more than enough to keep me roped in. Kristin Scott Thomas is also devilishly memorable as one of the most despicable mothers committed to film, almost as nightmarish as the otherworldly film itself. In the end, summing the picture up in words is of little use. Like the most divisive works of David Lynch, "Only God Forgive" is either going to strike a chord with you or it won't. I kind of admire the reverie it is. I LOVED it's aesthetics.