If you are into fast paced films with quirky dialogue and deep relatable characters than ‘Only God Forgives’ if not the film for you. If you prefer a slow paced ‘style over substance’ approach to film making then this is the film for you.
‘Only God Forgives’ follows the story of Julian, an American in in the dirty underworld of Bangkok, who is forced by his mother to avenge his brothers death after he was killed by a high ranking police officer. Much like director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last film ‘Drive’ what it lacks in plot it makes up for in style. The story is there but isn’t really all that engaging. The characters themselves are extremely one-dimensional and don’t feel like they could ever be real people. However this works rather well due to this films overall tone and look. Like in ‘Drive’ Ryan Gosling’s character rarely speaks and instead dominates the screen by his strong silent presence. Kristin Scott Thomas plays his mother is a way that can only be described as pure evil. So evil at one point I was actually offended by something this fictional character said on screen. These one dimensional beings really help to inhabit this strange seedy world that the viewer never really understands.
Even with its lack of depth this is an extremely pretty film to watch. Some of the shots are really breathtaking with some extremely bold lighting decisions. The majority of the film is filmed under a neon glow of red, blur or yellow which makes the few scenes that take place in ‘natural light’ really stand out. It really helps highlight the dark dingy underworld these characters inhabit and how they are under a constant aura of fakeness. This film is very much style over substance.
Without doubt ‘Only God Forgives’ is an extremely gory and graphically violent film. This has been one of the reasons why many critics have disliked it however I felt this realistic violence and gore served the film well. If you have seen the teaser poster for the film it features Ryan Gosling’s bashed and bloody face. Of all my years in of watching films with countless fight scenes I cannot recall one that showed the true ‘aftermath’ of a fight. Sure, some films may show a character with a black eye or a cut but Gosling’s face is truly messed up and swollen after the fight. This, I felt, made the fight scenes more powerful because every punch or kick actually dealt visible damage which was a pleasant change of the fake Hollywood fights one is used to watch.
Overall this is a film with many flaws. However, for its flaws it is has some major highlights. Its looks good, it is extremely well acted and it offers a type of ‘artsy’ film that will really stick around with you for a while. I wouldn’t say it is as good as ‘Drive’ which was by far a highlight of 2011 but I would say it is one of the more interesting films released this year. If you don’t mind artsy films and a splash of intense gore go and see it.
Only God Forgives is currently in cinemas now.