Only God Forgives (2013)

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Crime

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Rating: ★★★★

Only God Forgives was a controversial and the “cliché marmite” film of last year as it was either blasted and destroyed by critics or quite contrary praised and applauded as one of the best. Nicholas Winding Refn writes and directs the unnamed sequel to Drive, which is a popular soon to be classic in the making, however Only God Forgives takes a very different approach. Technically and visually powering with a very vague story surrounding sex and violence it brings a mixture between art and action leaving a lot of thoughts and opinions with its audience.

We follow Julian (Ryan Gosling) in the heart of Bangkok who ten years previously killed a man and went on the run. In the present and day to day he manages a Thai boxing club whilst playing a major role for an underground drugs operation. He’s a powerful, respected individual with a life, but inside he is empty. When Julian’s brother murders a young underage prostitute the police call on a retired cop, Chang –The Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the girl’s father to kill Julian’s brother giving him the power of revenge however Chang “restoring order” chops of his hand.  Julian’s estranged criminal mother Crystal flies over to collect her son’s body, with a dysfunctional relationship Crystal orders Julian to seek revenge. Julian empty and lifeless accepts the challenge and dispatches to find his brother’s killer and “raise hell”. However Julian trying revenge The Angle of Vengeance will lead to a battle of more than just strength which ultimately could restore what he has been missing.

Winding Refn’s story attempts to carry on from Drive (2010), Julian is now emotionless and the violent personality we saw in Drive has taken over completely leaving him not only lost but dangerous. The film has a clear plot however it is not executed so it is clear visually; everything is disguised and very vague. Refn attempts to create links and most importantly achieves this, however to understand Only God Forgives you will have to notice the tiny references which relate Chang’s actions together in his arrival and departing scene. The final scenes are amazing to watch however “the fight” scene is by far the best and most stand-out being anticipated throughout. The story in a whole for me is very strong and although it has been criticised on its vagueness and obsessive sex and violence it is all for a reason; Refn makes us think and to show how empty Julian is we watch him when he should be most intimate and connecting. Once again Winding Refn creates a very misty, symbolic and aggressive film.

Visually Only God Forgives is brilliant, it has been described as “perfect photography but without the captions”, that description is spot on. Each and every frame is a joy to experience and has been shot with precision and accuracy. The cinematography again is equal and this alongside Refn’s direction flourishes within the long awaited fight scene. Only God Forgives is technically flawless with even the make-up department thriving in turning the idolised and loved face of Gosling into something that looks broken and destroyed and more so the special effects team on creating gore which is worthy of the horror genre should be praised. The sound is also a highlighting feature and again likewise to Drive it should be applauded as Cliff Martinez shows great talent and skill.

Criticisms have been harshly focused too on Ryan Gosling and his performance which some have said isn’t worthy to be called a “performance”. However for me Gosling was brilliant, it is most likely harder to act without emotions then it is with, as it is human nature that we display emotions each and every day, every second. To capture such a lifeless and empty Julian, Gosling should be praised. However it was only Gosling that really impressed as the rest of the cast although very silent due to script and Refn’s nature wasn’t too believing or real.

Only God Forgives was victim of very bad criticisms however for me there were only two major flaws and areas I didn’t find impressive. The acting in general as I said with the exclusion of Ryan Gosling was very poor but more so this was due to a very mute script from Refn that didn’t pay off as he hoped despite turning more attention maybe towards the visuals.  The story too for me should have been directly linked to Drive and therefore it would have created a better understanding even if there was a short opening sequence continuing from the end of the 2010 hit.

Only God Forgives is a very complex film yet looks so simplistic, once the story is digested and understood it is then easier to enjoy and be inspired by what is a technically and visually flawless film. It thrives of an excellence main character and acting, whilst elements of gore and effects are well managed and executed. Winding Refn creates a very lovable film which for me was one of my favourites of last year and although not the most easiest to watch nor understand it can become very entertaining and essentially a worth-while viewing.

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