I have watched Only God Forgives twice now. Like Drive (2011) – director Nicolas Winding Refn, actor Ryan Gosling, and musician Cliff Martinez’s last collaboration – I required two viewings to establish whether this latest film is all bells and whistles purporting to be art or whether it is the real thing.
On first watching Only God Forgives, I was immediately struck by the magnificent cinematic lighting – it is original and spellbinding. The story is strong and somewhat surreal, which appeals to me. The acting is once again subdued, as it was in Drive; in fact, much more so. What I did not enjoy was Kristin Scott Thomas’ performance, which I felt destroyed a lot of the ambience built up prior to her arrival on scene.
Having just finished my second viewing, I can tell you that any reservations I had are gone. Only God Forgives is an excellent crime thriller. Kristin Scott Thomas’ vocal interpretation of her character jars nicely against the other subdued performances. And it is good to see Gosling in a more vulnerable role again (watch Lars and the Real Girl (2007) for a formidable performance by Gosling). The soundtrack by Martinez is exemplary. And the symbolism and lack of explanations to the storyline give a lot of food for thought.
Critics and audiences are divisive over Only God Forgives. Why? Probably because it is something very different; it is surreal, highly symbolic, has a strongly foreign film feel to it, and contains several performances which rely on almost no dialogue and only the most subtle of facial expressions. This is a very different film to Drive or Gosling’s last feature, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). Basically, this is not a film for everyone’s tastes. Still, I urge you to see it. It will only cost you 90 minutes of your life. This may be destined to become a cult classic.
You can find more information on this French-Danish co-production on Wikipedia and IMDb.
As always, we recommend you don’t ruin any surprises by reading spoilers or watching trailers.
Title: Only God Forgives
Direction: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cinematography: Larry Smith
Editing: Matthew Newman
Score: Cliff Martinez
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, Kristin Scott Thomas, Yaya-Ying Rhatha Phongam, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Tom Burke, Gordon Brown, Byron Gibson
Nice review. I does sound different and foreign film-ish, which is why the mass audience may not appreciate it. But after reading your review, I am eager.
I’ve been waffling in this one, but I may check it out as well. I do happen to like subtle movies, particularly of the foreign variety type. (Plus, you called out Lars and the Real Girl, which is in a two way tie with Half-Nelson as my favorite Gosling flick.)
I wanted to love it, and did in some ways – Kristin Scott Thomas is great and the cinematography and sound is top notch, but I couldn’t get into it from a character/narrative point of view and I was left pretty unfulfilled. I could see how someone could potentially love it and how someone could hate it, and I’d imagine my opinion may change on a second watch.
Okay, after your review and that trailer, I’m moving it to the top my list. 😉
I really enjoyed the trailer and was surprised to see all of the negative backlash. While I felt Drive was more like music video than a film, this film seems redolent of Jodorowsky and Gaspar Noe.
I like your comment and I would like to watch this movie. Recently I watched Danny Boyle’s “Trance” and the colors seems to “Only God…” . I liked so much Kristin Scott Thomas in “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” (2008), she was so intensive. Thank you and greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I am pleased that you enjoyed it. I loved it but I would never watch it again….. maybe in a few years 🙂
I had high hopes for it, but it left me disappointed. Beautiful cinematography, great soundtrack, and KST was superb! Other than that, there wasn’t much meat to it. I kept watching hoping something would emerge that justified my finishing the film, but it never happened. Loved Drive, won’t revisit Only God Forgives.
Mixed reviews all around. Looking forward to it.
Hi Shimky! thanks to let me know you. Wonderful review and wonderful cinema at your site. I will stay around….
I don’t know why I enjoy films like this but I do. It’s so much more interesting to think about what’s really going on then to be told. I’ll have to watch it. Thanks for the review!
My thoughts exactly! great post and great blog, followed!
Definitely interested in watching this now, thank you!
I’ll see it on RedBox. I lived in Thailand for 13 years, so am very interested. These films don’t come clear out here to Highland.
It’s definitely an interesting film. Reminded me a lot of David Lynch’s work. Perhaps if David Lynch were to make a Tarantino film…
Great review. My comment may not be constructive but after watching Drive (which I enjoyed) then this a few weeks later I was so confused with Ryan Gosling as an actor. The performs was GREAT, but what has me worried is his sanity. Great movie regardless.
Could not watch it, soooooooo boring, sorry. Nicolas Winding Refn career has been very disappointing. He has done but loosing gas since Pusher (great trilogy BTW) with maybe, just maybe a bit in Bronson and bit more in Drive. MHO.
All good Shimky
Maybe he just doesn’t produce films to your taste? I thought Bronson was brilliant, Drive fantastic, and Only God Forgives very good! :O)
My dear Shimky we can only argue from our “taste”. Nobody knows everything, not even god… or else we would have been erased from existence long time ago. That’s why I ended my very dry drift with MHO which, as I’m sure you well know, means My Honest Opinion; each of those three words refer to me on a personal level. So…
Hope you have space on your blog for people who doesn’t share (and adulate) same opinions and tastes as you.
Well, I wasn’t trying to be clever. I just made a perfectly valid suggestion: that if you didn’t really like Bronson or Drive or OGF, then Winding Refn probably isn’t your type of director. Of course we don’t have to agree – that’s the spice of life!
I think Pusher’s a great film, the whole trilogy is a compendium on drugs, dealers, bouncers, etc. made with the fresh stamina of someone who is not tied to anything, so FREE. Then he got the money and started to do less interesting things. Thanks to Tom Hardy’s own stamina Bronson is an island and Drive… well more about visual and atmospheric but interesting. Light years away from Pusher though. His last was unwatchable, for me. So in a way you’re right saying his not my kind of director… in other way, watch Pusher (the whole set) and probably you’ll get what I’m mumbling about.
Everything is kinda relative, same could be said about Gossling, he made very nice movies and crappy ones too, but, different from directors who drive, talent are drove by
@m)◘(x …continuing from last comment…
Yes, I’m going to get hold of the Pusher trilogy and watch it. Thanks for the tip. I’ll let you know what I think…
Terrific review! Still to see this movie. I loved Drive. And I really REALLY enjoyed Lars And The Real Girl.
I’ve just watched The Neon Demon and it’s amazing!
If you liked this movie, you’ll probably also enjoy the Neon Demon. I didn’t like any of the three, Only God Forgives, Drive and The Neon Demon. I can’t put my finger on why. But to me there was something missing. The movies felt shallow while pretending to be really deep. I was actually bored and can’t figure out why I watched all three of them…
Haha, that’s funny that you watched all of them! I have to say, Ben, that I felt exactly the same way when I first watched Drive. But I loved it the second time and liked Only God Forgives and I thought The Neon Demon was superb. I don’t think Refn is pretending to be deep. I think he is quite the opposite: purposefully shallow. The Neon Demon is all about the banality of the fashion industry, in my opinion.
I think that the Neon Demon was trying to add shock value etc. to make a point made million times before. Purposefully shallow? I’m not sure. Never again a movie like this. They also made me realize that Ryan Gosling is actually a really bad actor lol
Aha, so that’s what you think! Then, my dear Ben, you have to watch Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl (2007). 🙂
I actually thought he was a good actor until these movies made me realize he has the same facial expression ALL the time.
Btw a movie that may be interesting for this page is Camp X Ray – you might wanna check it out.
Thanks for the tip, Ben – I’ll check it out.