Only God Forgives stars Ryan Gosling as Julian, a man who’s emigrated from the US to Bangkok and making a great living as a drug dealer, using a boxing club as a front for his operation.
Early on, we see him looking just off-camera, the lighting only showing up half of his face. He looks to be pondering his future.
His brother, who we learn is Billy (Tom Burke), sits in a room, lit mostly in red, as a dead hooker is slumped on the mattress on the floor, by the wall. We learn he has raped and murdered her. Her father, Choi Yan Lee (Kovit Wattanakul), is brought in by Lt Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) – a man you don’t want to mess with. We quickly learn that retribution is the order of the day in this film, but once he’s done what he has to do, he sits in the half-light, pondering his future.
Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), turns up, most displeased that she’s asked to wait until later that afternoon before she can enter her plush hotel room, but after a word with the manager, she is allowed up, enters and sits in the half-light, pondering her future.
At some point you know that Julian and Chang are going to meet up and settle their disagreements, but in the meantime you’ll frequently see them both, sitting in the half-light and pondering their future.
Occasionally, Chang stands in the full light of a spotlight, not pondering his future, but singing karaoke songs at his local bar.
Only God Forgives is a lot of slow, pondering nonsense, albeit brilliantly well-lit, but while it hasn’t worked for me, I can see why such a film would work for others, since there are other slow films – with precious little happening – that work a treat for me. Melancholia is one such film.
There’s a few moments of extreme violence, such as a man having his eyes cut out, but the rest of it is fairly dull.
So much of the violence is off-screen, though, so it makes a mockery of the 18-certificate, while at other times it plays catch-up, but overall making for a rather unsatisfying experience. It’s like Nicolas Winding Refn is just trying to be arty for the sake of it.
As I alighted to earlier, you’ve got to love the lighting and the bold colours used in Only God Forgives. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing I loved about this.
Well, that and the fact it’s only 90 minutes long, a film length which Hollywood has forgotten about getting anywhere close to in a long time, making all their summer blockbusters stray close towards two-and-a-half hours when they could easily have 40-45 minutes cut out without losing a thing.
Running time: 90 minutes
Released: August 2nd 2013
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Producers: Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas and Vincent Maraval
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn
Music: Cliff Martinez
Julian: Ryan Gosling
Crystal: Kristin Scott Thomas
Lt Chang: Vithaya Pansringarm
Gordon: Gordon Brown
Mai: Yayaying Rhatha Phongam
Billy: Tom Burke
Choi Yan Lee: Kovit Wattanakul
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.