“Only God Forgives” (2013)
Julian (Ryan Gosling) owns a Thai boxing club in Bangkok, but we learn very early on that things in Bangkok aren’t always as they seem. When Julian’s brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered, the boy’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), shows up in town wanting revenge. It turns out that Julian and his brother are in the drugs trafficking business for their drug lord mother. Police investigating the murder are led by a ruthless detective named Chang (Yithaya Pansringarm), who sees himself as the judge, jury and executioner. Now Julian, his mother and the detective are on a path that may get them all killed.
This is writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to his 2011 sleeper hit “Drive,” which also stars Ryan Gosling. However, this movie is sadly disappointing film. The great thing about “Drive” was it had a definite feel to it. The music, the cinematography and Gosling’s reserve acting all created an atmosphere in the film that had the audience believing his character could explode at any minute. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t have any overriding style. It seems that it can’t decide what type of movie it wants to be. The film has been influenced by the Asian exploitation cinema of the past decade and seems to want to mirror that type of style. At the same time, it seems to want to be the pulp-fiction kind of Hollywood crime drama that director Refn’s “Drive” executed so well. While not succeeding at either genre, the film does goes overboard with the Asian influence, with not one but two karaoke scenes, more red lantern bars than San Francisco’s Chinatown and a sword wielding character that likes to cut off peoples hands.
The film fails to find any sort of narrative structure, with flashbacks that make no sense. The film is filled with characters that are either extremely boring, like Gosling’s, or so over the top, like Scott Thomas’s character, that the film borders on absurd comedy. Scott Thomas chews up the scenery like her life depends on it as her character is both insulting and boorish, and verbally abusive to her son. Her character sees Julian as the weaker of her two sons, a pretty boy that never was an equal to his older brother. With all that going on, you can see why Gosling’s character might have a few issues to work out with women.
Gosling’s character, on the other hand, like in “Drive,” barely delivers a line. The difference in the two films is that in “Drive” there was a purpose to his character, whereas in this film Julian seems to be just sleepwalking through life. There are shot after shot of Gosling just starring into space with an unexpressive look on his face, lost in a performance that is so soulless it will make fans of Gosling and “Drive” sorely disappointed. The only time he shows any emotion is in a pointless scene where he gets angry at his girlfriend/prostitute after the two of them have dinner with his vile mom. That scene, like many others in the movie, feels pointless and misplaced.
The film drags, making it seem far longer than 90 minutes. I have never seen so many characters walk so slowly for so long in any film. It’s as if we have a zombie film without all the fun. The film tries to be shocking at times, with scenes of torture and killing, but it never really hits the mark. In fact, there is a major scene in the film where detective Chang is torturing a criminal to get information out of him, that goes on so long, it makes the scene feel ridiculous, rather than revolting.
This is a film that wants desperately to be cool and shocking, but ends up being nothing more than boring and incomprehensible. My Rating: You Would Have to Pay Me to See It Again
Main photo courtesy of Radius/TWC