Review: ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

 You idiot... I'm asking for an American beer, not a tom yum-flavored beer...
A stylish cinematic triumph of color, mood and sound, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is one mesmerizing, if heavily flawed viewing experience elevated by Kristin Scott Thomas' and Vithaya Pansringarm's scene-stealing performances.

In 2011, acclaimed Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn finally made his first Hollywood breakthrough in DRIVE which was particularly well-received by critics during its screening at Cannes. However, his latest movie, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which also debuted in Cannes this year, was unexpectedly greeted with negative response. Upon finally watching the movie, it's easy to understand why ONLY GOD FORGIVES was booed at Cannes -- first, it's not as mainstream as the more accessible DRIVE; and second, it's a strictly arthouse effort that is very much in tone with Nicolas Winding Refn's VALHALLA RISING (2009).


The plot in ONLY GOD FORGIVES is minimal enough -- American brothers Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Billy (Tom Burke) are drug dealers operating a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. One night, eldest brother Billy has brutally raped and murdered a 16-year-old prostitute who later ends up being arrested by the local police, lead by the corrupt Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Instead of taking Billy back to the police station, he calls the prostitute's angry father (Kovit Wattanakul) to do whatever he wants against Billy. The angry father eventually kills Billy. When Julian knows about Billy's death, he decides to hunt the father down but subsequently backed out upon learning his brother's actions. Enter Julian's mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who immediately arrives in Bangkok to transport Billy home. Before she leaves, she demands Julian to kill every single person connected to Billy's death.

Technically speaking, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is simply top-notch. Both Larry Smith's lurid blue-and-red cinematography and Cliff Martinez's ambient score are hypnotizing enough. Nicolas Winding Refn's direction is an inspiring mix of Stanley Kubrick's and David Lynch's filmmaking style, while his depiction of graphic violence is disturbing enough to give you a certain sense of queasiness. As Crystal, Kristin Scott Thomas embraces one-of-a-kind performance you rarely seen from her -- a ruthless mom-from-hell character who swears a lot and all dolled up in platinum-blonde hair, heavy eye makeup and flashy wardrobe choices. Meanwhile, Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm is intriguing as a no-nonsense corrupt police lieutenant who loves to torture his victim with his flat sword.

Two showstopping moments involving Kristin Scott Thomas' Crystal -- a frustrating run-in with a hotel clerk and another sardonic scene where she first meet Julian's prostitute girlfriend, Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) over a dinner at the restaurant; and the extremely violent scene involving Chang casually maims and tortures a British thug named Byron (Byron Gibson) at the nightclub starting by plunging two chopsticks through his hands and his thighs, slashing his eyes out, and finally piercing an ice pick through his ear.

Crystal: How many cocks can you entertain with that cute little cum dumpster of yours?

Interestingly enough, Ryan Gosling is the weakest one among all the cast. His trademark brooding and steely-eyed expression that previously won him numerous praises in DRIVE remains intact except this time, his near-catatonic performance in ONLY GOD FORGIVES almost make him a lifeless character. Nicolas Winding Refn's snail-paced approach throughout the movie is sometimes tough to sit through for most viewers. As for the heavily-cryptic ending that involves the fate of Julian, I was kind of disappointed the way Refn wrapped up his movie.
Eat my tom yum now or I'll stab this sword through your face!

ONLY GOD FORGIVES is clearly not for everyone, but any viewers who are adventurous enough to watch a movie as gamely experimental as this one will be rewarded with one-of-a-kind cinematic experience.

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