Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, and the first reunion with actor Ryan Gosling after working together on the incredible 2011 crime drama Drive, Only God Forgives follows Julian (Gosling), a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld who runs a drug business under the cover of a Muay Thai boxing club. Julian’s life soon becomes even more complicated, however, when his mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for the death of his brother, Billy (Tom Burke).
With the promise of another masterpiece on the same level as Drive with the combination of Refn and Gosling, Only God Forgives has been another highly anticipated film of 2013. With a fantastic trailer highlighting Refn’s visually masterful style, it looked set to be a favourite for us all. But the silent treatment didn’t work a second time around.
Only God Forgives is a mixed bag of the good, the excellent, and the downright boring. With top quality cinematography and performances, the bad comes from its emptiness. Incredibly slow-paced, it was surprising that the film didn’t grow tedious. But the flaw doesn’t come from the film being too lengthy, it comes from the run-time being double what it needed to be for what little story was told. It’s not that I wanted it to end either, there just needed to be a lot more to be happening. In the end, Only God Forgives didn’t capture the same gripping intensity a film of this pace needed to.
Nevertheless, every shot is absolutely stunning, but being a ‘visual masterpiece’ doesn’t always mean that it is one. There needed to be so much more behind these visuals for it to be anything close to what Drive was, and whilst Gosling’s mysterious presence is mesmerising and the violence is just as shocking, it just didn’t have the same effect. Maybe if there was as good of a soundtrack to take some of the emptiness away, or if the relationships were as powerful to maintain an intensity, I might have invested in it again. Without these things, however, Only God Forgives only seemed like half an effort.
The performances are excellent, though, for what little is asked of the cast at least. It’s such a shame that this is Gosling’s last role as an actor for a while as he really is outstanding. For me, though, it was Kristin Scott Thomas who stole the show. What a brilliant character this was for her, and I only wish we got to see more of it.