I realise I’m a little late to the party with this one. Bizarrely, my local cinema got ‘Only God Forgives’ for two nights this past weekend. Seeing as it was released well over a month ago, it seemed odd that we got it at all. Taking in to account that the exact same thing happened for ‘Drive’ and ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’, it has led me to believe that someone at Cineworld Eastbourne has some kind of belated hard-on for Ryan Gosling. Regardless of your feelings for the actor, ‘Only God Forgives’ is a strange beast of a film that will definitely split opinions. Most will hate it, some will come out baffled, and an even smaller percentage will declare it a masterpiece.
First of all I have to give director Nicolas Winding Refn credit. Many were quick to bill this second venture with Gosling as ‘Drive 2’ when it was announced that original leading man Luke Evans stepped out; however the Danish director has boldly and rather bravely served up a deeply personal and starkly un-commercial film. If you thought Gosling possessed an economy of speech in ‘Drive’, I can assure you he speaks even less in this film; only 20-odd lines of dialogue I believe. Instead the camera focuses for long periods on his blank expression and this will certainly test your patience. I find Gosling quite watchable, and not in the obvious dreamboat way. He has that presence where he can pull this kind of stuff off. Check the first segment of ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ and the large shadow he leaves over the rest of the film when he departs for further proof. As the tortured Julian in ‘Only God Forgives’, I think he was suited perfectly for the role as a man who may or may not be trapped in his own purgatory.
I’m taking a guess there as to what exactly was going on plot-wise. There is a dream-like quality to the whole film where it’s not very clear what is exactly happening. In the simplest of terms, we are following Julian (Gosling) as he navigates through Bangkok in search of vengeance for his brother’s murder. He is constantly goaded on and belittled by his mother (played by an acerbic Kristin Scott Thomas) to exact this revenge. Refn has spoken how his wife’s pregnancy filled him with inexplicable rage and how it drove him to seek a fight with God himself as a means of letting the anger out. This is a strong theme in the film with Gosling staring at his clenched fists for long periods, not necessarily in pure rage but in an almost questioning manner. This futility of anger and ensuing violence is further played out with the various grotesque and unsettling scenes. Here is a film where the lead actor trained extensively in Muay Thai for months only to shoot a climactic scene where he throws no offensive manoeuvres or shows any sign of defending himself. To be honest, I’m still grappling with this film. I’ve pulled these little bits of meaning for myself from it, but I feel I need to give it another viewing to further appreciate it. If you’re looking for an action-packed tale of revenge, avoid at all costs. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking mediation on the nature of revenge and violence then dive on in.
8 severed limbs/ 10