Only God forgives is visually stunning but too wrapped up in its own hyper-reality, and doesn’t deliver the supposed profundity of its themes.
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
The film is a mostly a series of tableaux doused in the colors of Bangkok’s seedy underworld. Its visual style turns what should have been dirty sleazy settings into beautiful dream-like set pieces, creating an entirely different world that has its own rules upheld by infallible judgement.
The photography, cinematography and soundtrack is all on point, but its vivid compositions doesn’t deliver anything as profound as it looks nor something to connect with.
The cast manages to make do of what little they were given, but their characters are unrelatable. They’re either impassive, crude or drift from one scene to another barely making a sound.
There is substance underneath but fails to resonate and mostly appalls when it finally unfolds. In one scene, the film takes Julian (Gosling) and his mother’s relationship literally. The ending, which is the culmination of the movie and his redemption, looks cheesy.
Only God Forgives is the high art pretentious cousin of Drive, devoid of a narrative and characterization. Both movies moved slow and steady, punctuated by violence that comes out of nowhere, and highlighted by an apt soundtrack.
The major difference is while Drive manages to make you feel for a lone drifter who finally finds a chance for permanence but had to give it up, Only God Forgives delivers a stylized but dull redemption of a character that you don’t care about. The karaoke scenes are funny though.
My Rating: 5/10
Movie Poster via ShortList Magazine