They say that less is more. And that is certainly the case for Only God Forgives, the second film from the Drive team of Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn. Only God Forgives is a real piece of beauty, and although received very mixed reviews, in my opinion is one of the best films to come out of 2013.
Set in the criminal underworld of Bangkok, brothers Billy and Julian (Ryan Gosling) run a muay thai boxing gym as a front for a drug dealing business. After raping and killing an underage prostitute, Billy is murdered himself. Forced by his manipulative mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), Julian must seek revenge against his brother’s killer and the police detective (Vithaya Pansringarm) who allowed the killing to happen.
Only released in the summer of this year, I was very surprised to see this hit the Netflix catalog so quickly, but it was a welcome surprise, as I adored this film when I saw it the cinema only a few months earlier. Only God Forgives is a funny film, it is the sort of film that you will either love or hate. And as one of the people who love it, it did knark me a little bit with some of the negative reviews that I read and heard after the films cinematic release. Taking a step back, I can see why people may not get into this film, but I still strongly disagree with most of the points that are raised against the film.
Yes, the film is very slow – but is slow by its very nature and for me adds heavily to the film. It is incredibly tense and very deliberate with every scene. Every shot has been meticulously thought out to make the most of every inch of the screen, every angle and composition is genius, be it the lighting to match the mood, shots that make you feel as the audience you are peering in and hidden in the shadows getting a view of a world that you shouldn’t be seeing – the cinematography is fantastic, and the filmmakers deserve to be recognised for the brilliance of each and every shot. This also accompanied by a fantastic score that is pulsating and builds the drama and tension fantastically, helps drive this film.
The film has been criticised by some for a lack of story – however there is a story in there. This is story of revenge, but what is so fascinating about it is that this isn’t your classic revenge story of retribution – there is no remorse from the audience for the demise of the characters, and Kristin Scott Thomas plays her role as Crystal, the mother of a murdered son, fantastically – she is the definition of pure evil in this film. Ryan Gosling is superb as Julian, without actually hearing that much from him, from the way Gosling played the role, I felt as I learnt enough about the character, whilst having him still remain mysterious and allowed me to interpret the character my own way rather than be force fed what he was really all about. There is very little dialogue in the film, as the story is told through actions rather than words – this is a very visual film and your attention needs to be fully switched on or else you won’t get the benefit from this film, the character development is a lot greater than it appears on the surface as this is done almost entirely visually.
Vithaya Pansringarm is also fantastic and deserves a mention, as in the reviews I have read he is very much overlooked, perhaps as he is far less known than the other stars in this film. His portrayal of detective Chang is superb, incredibly mysterious his character is very complex and is an intimidating presence whenever he is on the screen.
Only God Forgives, at times is difficult to watch, this film is definitely not for the faint hearted – littered with extreme violence and an exploration into the inner mind workings of seriously troubled characters. Refn will make you squirm in your seat more than a few times throughout the hour and half of this film, and at times you will likely groan in pain at what you are actually seeing unfold. I have to say, I have some serious respect for a film that can make me feel so uncomfortable and yet still keep me so captivated.
As you will have gathered, in my opinion this is a fantastic film, and a terrific piece of art – and, although won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I for one thoroughly enjoyed it.