God may forgive, but I do not. ‘Only God Forgives’ is as lifeless as the severed head that turns up mid-way through the movie. It’s an ugly, reprehensible picture mascarading as art-house cinema. Am I communicating? This movie is shockingly bad – and what makes its badness all the more surprising is the fact that Ryan Gosling has teamed up with director Nicolas Winding Refn; their last collaboration ‘Drive’ was one of the best movies of 2011. ‘Only God Forgives’ is among the very worst of 2013.
Gosling does even more staring and less speaking this time around; the camera didn’t catch him blinking. He plays Julian, a drug dealer in Bangkok whose mama played by Kristin Scott Thomas forces him to find and kill whoever is his responsible for his brother’s death.
Gosling is surrounded by bright red neon wallpaper; one that gives a better performance than he does. What’s Kristin Scott Thomas doing in this movie? She’s probably the best thing about it – at least she seems to be having fun playing the cartoonish matriarch; if of course a cartoonish matriarch was allowed to drop the “c-word” more than once. Vithaya Pansringarm is the retired cop who knows how to swing a sword. And beat Ryan Gosling to a bloody pulp.
‘Only God Forgives’ didn’t leave me with a single memorable image. We see some nicely lit up interiors but exterior shots consist mostly of shady alley and sketchy hoods that evoke the sleaze and corruption of Bangkok. Even Refn’s signature visual style is weak.
I don’t know what Nicolas Winding Ref is going for and I don’t care. If I’m to guess, it appears as if he enjoys the snail-paced anticipation of one grotesque outburst of violence after another. One scene shows us a tortured victim who has a knife driven across his eyes before being stabbed in the ear; I didn’t realize I was at a screening of ‘Saw 17’ – enough already. This isn’t a commentary on a corrupt system. This isn’t a spaghetti Western set in Bangkok. This is nothing – it’s vacuous. ‘Only God Forgives’ is so bad it makes me want to revoke my previous praise for ‘Drive’. This is one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had the movies. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let me spare you the pain. Please. I watch these movies so you don’t have to.