'Only God Forgives' a movie that's this 1-note
By Ann Hornady
Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
You've got to hand it to Nicolas Winding Refn. Only a filmmaker of his supreme self-confidence is willing to put one of the most charismatic stars on the planet in his movie, only to reduce his leading man's face to an unrecognizable mess by the film's end.
The swollen, bloodied features in question belong to Ryan Gosling, who in “Only God Forgives” hands out and receives beatings with such metronomic regularity that they feel like the big dance numbers in bad musicals: showy, artificial and meaningless. In some ways, “Only God Forgives” qualifies as a follow-up to Refn's 2011 film “Drive,” which starred Gosling in a similarly terse, somber performance.
But where that film cleverly addressed its own pulp-crime genre and the artifice of Hollywood, here Refn advances nothing but his own obsessions, which quickly grow tiresome. He has often proudly declared himself to be a “fetish filmmaker,” interested in making movies purely on the basis of what attracts him; the audience, for its part, doesn't figure.
Presumably, “Only God Forgives” will manage to find its share of dedicated viewers — in this case, people turned on by lurid, neon-colored nightscapes, Asian martial arts, graphic brutality, body horror and the perverse thrill of hearing English rose Kristin Scott Thomas deliver arias of vulgar verbal abuse. Here she plays Crystal, a blonde-haired cougar who has arrived in Bangkok to avenge the death of her favorite son by way of her least-favorite son, Julian (Gosling).
Cruel, immoral, racist and just a little bit incest-y, Crystal is a monstrous mother who make Euripides look like Louisa May Alcott. This is a woman who, when she hears that one of her offspring raped and killed a 16-year-old girl, says, “I'm sure he had his reasons.”
But once the initial jolt has worn off, Crystal isn't nearly as interesting as, say, Jacki Weaver's character in “Animal Kingdom,” a criminal den-mother of fascinating contradictions.
Instead, Refn is content to let Scott Thomas simply be ugly — inside and out — while Gosling smolders soulfully, clenches his fists laconically, and otherwise sleepwalks through a modern-day Bangkok filmed to resemble one of hell's more-tawdry outer circles.
Slow, methodical and mannered, “Only God Forgives” suggests that Refn — whose impressive earlier outings include the similarly violent “Valhalla Rising” and “Bronson” — has hit a nihilistic dead end. Rather than bold and subversive, his fetishism feels hermetic, claustrophobic and exhausted. The most objectionable thing about “Only God Forgives” isn't that it's shocking or immoral, but that it's so finally, fatally dull.
Ann Hornaday is a staff writer for the Washington Post.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Dark Braddock setting of ‘Out of the Furnace’ reflects a dying way of life
- ‘Gritty but vibrant world’ of Braddock lures director of ‘Out of the Furnace’
- Review: ‘Out of the Furnace’ looks at the fire within
- Third act redeems war tale ‘Twice Born’
- DVD reviews: ‘The Wolverine,’ ‘Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ and ‘Drinking Buddies’