Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives

Critics 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.



Total Count: 160


Audience Score

User Ratings: 26,343
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Movie Info

Julian (Ryan Gosling), a respected figure in the criminal underworld of Bangkok, runs a Thai boxing club and smuggling ring with his brother Billy. Billy is suddenly murdered and their crime lord matriarch, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives from London to bring back the body. When Jenna forces Julian to settle the score with his brother's killers, Julian finds himself in the ultimate showdown. (c) Radius


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Critic Reviews for Only God Forgives

All Critics (160) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (65) | Rotten (95)

  • Like it or not, this is a study in weakness, submission, impotence, symbolic castration even.

    Aug 2, 2013 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Aug 1, 2013 | Rating: D+ | Full Review…
  • A psychoanalyst's wet dream. When can we see it again?

    Aug 1, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jul 30, 2013 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • This is one of the most shocking and one of the best movies of the year.

    Jul 23, 2013 | Rating: 3.5/5
  • Refn's nerve is admirable, even if his film often borders on unwatchable.

    Jul 22, 2013 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Only God Forgives

  • Jun 01, 2017
    Visually excellent but with a story that fits on a beer coaster, director Refn doesn't even try to copy his masterpiece Drive. You gotta admire him for being weird, but this is pretty far out there. The violence is gruesome, the movie slow and with very few words, yet oddly mesmerizing thanks to its colorful images. The ending is pure chaos. You can't help but think: What the hell did I just watch?
    Jens S Super Reviewer
  • Mar 22, 2017
    Herein lay one of my most internally divisive viewings. In this short, critically derided follow up to 2011's "Drive", Nicolas Winding Refn puts a small budget, neon gore-fest up for scrutiny. Digesting his "style over substance" can be arduous for new comers, but as I have spent a few years ruminating on Refn's output, I've grown to appreciate what he has to show and say. Directors like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick earned their place among the greatest film makers because they crafted their own visual language and style, ingraining themselves into the cinematic zeitgeist with little regard for what the average film-goer might think. They didn't have to pander to anyone because they knew their work was self-evident, but it took them a very long time to be beyond reproach. Now, I've seen enough movies that go with or against the grain that I usually hope to see the latter, but when I saw "Only God Forgives" for the first time, I was mostly nonplussed. After viewing most of his other films though, it finally clicked. Refn is a Mario Bava fan. That was all I needed to know to see that this guy knew exactly what he wanted to do and was doing it properly. Bava's horrific, gawdy, and enticing eye for color and shading just ooze from each of his films. "Only God Forgives" is Refn's hermitage in the school of Bava. While "Bronson" may have solidified Refn's visual style, this film solidifies his entire oeuvre. The suspense, violence, dark psychological horror, and soulless characters are like a blend of the action and horror schlock of Bava with the subconscious ennui of Lynch. And the cinematography is indisputably awesome. All of this adds up to an auteur who I will gladly support in any future endeavors, haters be damned. Masculine violence is not only a heavy theme in this film but in all of Refn's filmography. In this film, this violence stems from phallic legitimacy. Gosling is constantly emasculated by his mother who bluntly criticizes his penis size, insists that he is jealous of his deceased pedophile brother, and intimidates him into running her drug business for her. As for the "antagonist" (the sword-wielding cop), he doles out justice in the form of penetration. He has a sword with which to take away others' agency (their arms, mostly, another phallic representation), and when he kills in the name of justice it is always through a penetrating act. Retributive justice is the overarching theme. The film's title will clue you in on the fact that each character, without exception, demands retribution for all wrongdoings and poor intentions. Chief among them, Ryan Gosling's character has been fantasizing about being punished for his patricide while relishing in his vicarious matricide. As his mother, played by Kristen Scott Thomas, says: "He killed his father with his bare hands". She says this in a feigned plea for life to the sword-wielding cop. Upon discovering her body, her son cuts a new hole in her womb and thrusts his fist into it - paralleling the earlier scene of his fantasy of putting his fist into his girlfriend in the karaoke club while she sits in the booth. (It's the only way he can express his manly feelings!) By the end of the film, even though Gosling has (arguably) done nothing wrong except for do as he is told, he has still internalized that he deserves punishment, and he offers up his hands to be cut off. Those last two paragraphs give more clemency to the film than the majority of initial reviews combined. I saw the same response to last year's "The Neon Demon" because nobody wants to lend these films any intellectual credence. The wonderful thing about Refn's filmography is that they all look terrific. So, why wouldn't you go back over a beautifully filmed composition to get the most out of it? I've had plenty of knee-jerk reactions to films that initially pissed me off, but if they made me that sick or mad or hateful, I went back and re-watched them to figure out just what it was that made me so averse in the first place. The irony is that many who criticize Refn's films for "lacking substance" are at a loss for substantial critiques of said films. All I'm saying is give this one and "Valhalla Rising" another chance.
    K Nife C Super Reviewer
  • Aug 26, 2015
    Dull, plodding nonsense and a massive step backwards for Refn.
    Marcus W Super Reviewer
  • Mar 25, 2014
    This is a great 30-minute short film stretched out to an, almost, insufferable 90 minutes. I will never complain about the film's technical prowess though, as the film is definitely a feast for the eyes. It's such a shame, though, that the story is so utterly hollow and uninteresting. The film substitutes storytelling for unflinching violence and shocking images. And with the visual style, the violence just looks that much better. But just because it looks great, doesn't make it a good movie. There's practically no story to speak of, with the exception of Julian's relationship with his mother and how her domineering and emasculating way, almost revealing a pattern of sexual abuse committed by her, of being with Julian has caused him problems in connecting and relating to women on a romantic level. That's literally the most interesting thing about the film's story, that and Kristin Scott Thomas' performance, which is really the saving grace of the film. But that stuff you pick up from by the way the characters act around each other or certain things Julian's mother would say. It's definitely more subtle and I thought that part of the film, at least, was a little interesting. But considering how much they could've actually done with this, it turns out to be a massive disappointment in the long run. Cause Julian's mother disappears for a good chunk of the film. It wouldn't surprise me if the script for this film was insanely short and that's why the film has such a slow pace. And in this case, slow is equal to boring. There's long shots of characters walking slowly, staring at each other for long periods of time without saying anything. It's really as tedious as it sounds. It'd be one thing if the story that was actually there was interesting enough to make the slower moments worth sitting through. I think of The Wall when I say this. That film is definitely more methodically paced than even THIS movie, but there's so much subtext, so much symbolism and so many mysteries of the circumstances the main character finds herself in to explore that the film is still great to watch. It might feel like it's longer than it actually is, but it's still ab great film because of everything that's implicit. This film, however, doesn't have subtext or symbolism, well it does have symbolism but it's not particularly good, the film just wants to shock and awe just for the sake of it. I think it'd work if the film didn't try to pretend to be an art-house film. That gives it the appearance of the film actually being deeper and more complex that it actually is. I wasn't fooled, but I'm pretty sure that Nicolas Winding Refn, having bought himself a lot of goodwill with Drive, an incredible movie, will have some people actually buying this drivel as something more than it actually is. The film has its moments, mostly all of them belonging to Kristin Scott Thomas and her great performance. And the fact that the film is so visually stylish also scores it a lot of points. Another problem is the fact that the film is so ironic. It takes itself so seriously, so that makes a lot of the film so unintentionally funny. This is a midnight movie that's unaware of that fact. You could say the same thing about Drive, but at least Drive had a great story, incredible action, fabulous visuals, a great soundtrack. And, most importantly, it wasn't a chore to watch. This film makes for a great trailer and not much else. Great visuals and one great performance does not a great movie make.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer

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