Film Review: Only God Forgives
I had sort of wanted to watch Only God Forgives when I first saw the trailers for it – it seemed like a gung-ho action movie with loads of Ryan Gosling, which in my eyes was ideal. But then friends started to see it, and report back. Gosling doesn’t say a lot, there’s a lot of gratuitous violence, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I backed off from paying to see it at the cinema and figured I’d get around to watching it sometime.
Well. I’ve watched it now.
We’ll start with the fact that the above statements are all absolutely true – Gosling is rather taciturn, the violence overflows from the gratuitous to the downright WTF, and the dizzy blend of reality and fantasy made my eyes go crossed.
The basic premise is this: Julian (Gosling) and his older brother Billy (Tom Burke – this guy is everywhere) are rather unpleasant drug dealers in Bangkok. That is, until Billy makes the mistake of raping and killing a teenage girl… nice. Big Boss policeman, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) gives the father a chance to get his revenge and thus that is the end of Billy.
Billy and Julian’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) is even worse than the brothers, and demands that Julian takes revenge on Chang. Cue lots and lots and lots of violence. And when I say lots, I mean BUCKETS of violence. And some strange hallucinations about an exotic dancer.
Seriously, I lost track of the plotline. There was a lot of running around killing people in cruel and unusual ways and Gosling looking tortured but not saying much.
In many ways, this is an entertaining film. In more ways, it’s not. Gosling, Scott Thomas, Pansringarm and (briefly) Burke all give outstanding performances in their own right. But the actual plotline is the true let down. The violence, which sometimes has a place, is way too over the top and just bewilders and confuses (and grosses out). The lack of talking is less mood-enhancing and more annoying. It also ends rather abruptly, and with little conclusion. It all feels disconnected, which isn’t helped by the psychedelic mood lighting and jarring soundtrack.
I can’t work out what kind of genre this is either – whether horror, thriller, action… perhaps it can’t make up its own mind and so ploughs on with a genre-hopping mêlée of its own. The visual beauty of it, somewhat tempered by the slew of blood, is hard to deny though. It’s cleverly constructed, with its use of place and colour a reflection of the ongoing action and a deeper, underlying madness. The scenes of serenity give it a particularly surreal edge.
I think I was so bewildered by this film that I’m not even sure if I enjoyed it. I am always impressed by Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm is a revelation as cold, disturbed Chang. But the violence ended up making me feel sick more than anything, and it’s hard to like something that makes you feel nauseous.