Only God Forgives (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2013)

What's it about? When the brother of Bangkok drug smuggler Julian (Ryan Gosling) is murdered, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) blows into town and demands Julian avenge his death. But Inspector Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) is investigating the case, and neither Julian or his mother are quite prepared for the particular brand of justice he dishes out. Sounds like a standard kind of cop-criminal thriller, right? Wrong.


Is it any good? To forgive might be divine, but to err is human, and this film certainly left me going 'err....' on several occasions. It's a straightforward story, but we have a mixture of styles and influences jostling for position to present it in a way that's anything but straightforward. Its deliberately off-kilter and carefully framed sequences immediately recall the work of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, whilst the surreal violence is a tribute to the avant-garde films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (to whom the film is dedicated). Finally, we have a smattering of Sergio Leone touches during some lengthy stand-offs, so all of that means it's not your standard mainstream thriller. However, it's not an entirely successful mix, because there's little depth to the story or characters, which barely rise above caricature. Gosling fans will find little to enjoy in a taciturn, emotionless performance, although Scott Thomas has fun playing against type as a foul-mouthed, peroxide blonde bitch. But in truth, it's Pansringarm's mannered, probably insane, and possibly supernatural anti-hero that sticks most in the memory, thanks to some arresting moments involving torture, martial-arts, machete-wielding and, err...karaoke. So it's all very stylish for sure, with some beautifully composed tableaux, but it's hollow and lacks substance. Now, if only there were a phrase to succinctly sum that mixture up.

I don't trust you. What do others think? An utterly divisive film, garnering boos and cheers at its premiere in Cannes, and ending up on both Top 10 (e.g The Guardian) and Bottom 10 (e.g. Time magazine) lists of the year. Audiences were not so taken with it, disappointed after the previous Winding Refn/Gosling collaboration Drive because this was less accessible and because Gosling didn't take his shirt off much. Opinions ranged from 'marvelous' to 'utter shit' to 'WTF?' and virtually everybody made the joke that God might forgive it, but no-one else will. You will note I made a superhuman effort to refrain from doing that - thank God for the delete button.

What does the Fonz think? Mark it down as a Spaghetthai Eastern.






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