Review: Only God Forgives


Director:Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast:Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam

Running Time:90 Minutes


Only God Forgives is a study in contradictions. It's one of the most beautiful films of the year but also one of the most hideous. It features a cop who's a murderer and criminal who's a gentleman. Most importantly, it's technically flawless but lacks any compelling reason to care about what's happening.

Refn's previous films, including Drive and Bronson, had leads that seemed larger than life and, despite their completely amoral attitudes, gave you a reason to root for them. Only God Forgives doesn't have any of that. In this world, there are only horrible people and slightly less horrible people. This is a movie that practically spits in your face, daring you not to like it.

Shockingly, one of its major problems is Gosling. Where he imbued a sense of loneliness and duty into the Driver, as Julian he can only offer blank stares. Faring much better is Kristin Scott Thomas as his evil mother. As a revenge-obsessed, possibly incestuous diva, she should have her visage placed on Bad Movie Mom Rushmore alongside Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom and Mo'Nique in Precious.

She's arrived in Bangkok, looking like she just came from an audition for The Real Housewives of Whatever, to claim the body of her other son Billy (Tom Burke). He was butchered by the father of the girl he raped and killed. Like I said, only horrible people and slightly less horrible people.

Standing in between Julian and bloody vengeance is Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a local cop who's also a single father. He enjoys singing karaoke after filleting some low-life with his blade. It's hard to tell whether these musical interludes are meant as comic relief, but the audience was filled with nervous laughter. It's hard to know, but surely there had to be some respite from seeing character after character dismembered and tortured.

If there is any substance in this stylish movie, it's that it might be seen as a grisly interpretation of what happens in an eye-for-an-eye world. But that seems wishful thinking. This comes across as gory for gore's sake. Even so, with all those caveats noted, Only God Forgives begs to be seen at least once for its supreme style alone. You will certainly never see another movie like this, and that's for the best. 


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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