Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Only critics destroy
Drive, Drive, Drive! That’s all people thought of (me included) when we saw the first trailer for Only God Forgives. For some reason we assume that Nicolas plus Ryan Gosling equals Drive 2. However, Nicolas has rather pleasantly showed us that he is capable of creating an entirely different beast altogether. I actually think (contrary to most people) that Only God Forgives is even better than Drive. It’s easy to see why the film got famously booed at Cannes. It’s relentlessly violent, slower than mainstream films and has very little dialogue. However, I am surprised that it has sparked as much universal hate as it has, although I do think you have to be in the right frame of mind when you watch it. If you regularly watch mainstream action films with Jason Statham, then don’t bother. Similarly, if you can’t immerse yourself within a film, and find yourself watching a screen, then don’t bother.
Only God Forgives may seem superficial on the surface, however if you dig deeper you can find a very complex web going on underneath it all. Only God Forgives is more of an experience than a film. I found myself completely immersed within its dark and dream-like world. The long drawn-out shots, moody score and intense dream-like atmosphere are not dissimilar to something David Lynch would create. This is quite a compliment coming from me as I believe that David Lynch is one of the greatest directors of all time. The scenes where the fascinating God-like character, Chang sings at the karaoke bar evoke the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive. I found it powerful and compelling for no particular reason.
The biggest complaint Only God Forgives receives is that it’s slow. People complaining about the pace have clearly never seen possibly the most boring and underrated film of all time, Uzak which moves at a pace which would make a snail weep. Only God Forgives is slow, but I was never bored. There’s an extremely strong atmosphere in Only God Forgives. Every shot seems to be drenched in doom and seedy (but beautiful) neon lighting. Just like Drive, every shot is meticulously crafted. The positioning and lighting are clearly perfected just like in a Stanley Kubrick film. Because of this I was never bored.
I was also fascinated by all of the characters. Ryan Gosling says virtually nothing, yet he somehow seems like a deep and complex character. Chang is possibly the most fascinating character in the film. He’s a relentless and untouchable force and it was a very interesting move to compare him to God. Plum Berkley steals the show, however, as the domineering and creepy mother. Every scene she’s in is full of awkwardness and intensity. Some of the things she said can also be hard to take. I was never sure if the film was trying to be darkly humorous or disturbing, however I don’t mean this in a negative way. I enjoyed all of the characters immensely.
The high point of the film is probably the climatic battle between Chang and Julian. It’s a wonderfully choreographed and brutal scene where you feel every punch. This brings me on to the next big criticism which is that Only God Forgives is sadistically violent. This is true. I’m used to violent films that use disturbing torture such as: Inside, Martyrs and Audition. However, there was one particular scene which I found incredibly hard to watch. I did manage to watch it though. I think the violence was harder than it needed to be, but it did show the type of relentless man Chang is. I’m also one of these sickos that isn’t adverse to a bit of blood and gore. I don’t think Only God Forgives is glamorising violence in any way.
Needless to say I loved Only God Forgives. When it ended I felt haunted and I wasn’t sure how to take it. However, it has now sunk in and after reading analysis’ of the film I can see how complex and intelligent it is. I think it’s a misunderstood film. It’s hugely atmospheric and engaging. I was gripped throughout, in fact the film probably could’ve done with being a little bit longer. It’s full of unforgettable and powerful scenes which I admired greatly. Only God Forgives is very nearly a masterpiece.