Only God Forgives (2013) Poster

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A clinical study on perversion
FrostyChud24 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Either Nicholas Winding Refn is a Freudian scholar who has made a didactic film illustrating the nuances of the Oedipus complex, or psychic reality really does have an Oedipal structure. I vote for the latter.

We have Julian, played by Ryan Gosling, who is even emptier than the character he portrayed in Drive. He barely speaks, has no center, and cannot be a man with the woman he loves. In an early scene, we see him sliding his hand up her skirt in a nightclub. He is not just copping a happy feel; trembling, he is approaching the altar of Woman. We then see him walking down a scary hallway. He extends his hand to open a dark door when...SLICE...Chang cuts his arm off. It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to deduce the symbolism of the arm that must be severed when it reaches out. In the next scene, Gosling opens the door in reality and finds...his mother waiting for him on the bed. So, putting the pieces together, when Julian approaches a woman he imagines a door (and is not Woman always a door for Man?). Behind this door in his unconscious hides his castrating, phallic mother. But before he can open this door, a man with a knife appears and castrates him. Why? Castration sucks...but it is not as bad as what is behind that door in Julian's unconscious (psychosis).

Now, it happens that for perverse subjects like Julian (and, I am guessing, the director), the unconscious representation at the heart of their suffering is that of the phallic mother. Kristin Scott Thomas plays an excellent phallic mother here: obscene, castrating, who goes as far as to belittle Julian's manhood in front of his girlfriend.

Notice too that we never find out if Julian's girlfriend is a woman or a ladyboy. This confusion is alluded to in the opening scenes with Billy at the brothel and is further confirmed by the way in which Refn films Mai slowly lifting her skirt to show a breathless Julian whatever it is he/she has under there. Like all perverse subjects, Julian is haunted by the fantasy of the maternal phallus. Hence the popularity of ladyboy prostitutes in Thailand: they bring to life, in a non-threatening form, a powerful and archaic unconscious fantasy. What else but the hidden maternal phallus could Julian be looking for when he cuts open the stomach of his dead mother and reaches in? What Julian lacks is an unconscious representation of the womb, one that he tries here to generate. For the perverse subject, femininity is intolerable because in his unconscious, women are nothing but castrated men. He cannot understand that the essence of femininity is infinite interiority. Notice too how Refn's dojo is a surreal labyrinth: Julian has no representation for the labyrinth of femininity because he is stuck INSIDE the labyrinth of his mother's body.

The clinic shows us that nothing destroys a son's sexuality like a phallic, castrating mother. For Julian to save some shred of masculinity, he needs a father strong enough to castrate his mother. Enter Chang, who must be considered a pure fantasy. Here is a man strong enough, phallic enough, silent enough (he doesn't even speak English) finally to defeat the Gorgon and extract the phallus from her dead body. Once amputated, the hidden maternal phallus becomes the visible paternal phallus (=Chang's knife), one that is not attached to the body but can be symbolically passed from father to son. This is how the Oedipus complex "normally" operates. The perverse subject, however, has not accomplished this step. He has no phallus, no symbolic masculinity. He is still stuck in his mother's body, and as such he does not have the right to any sort of accomplished manhood. Hence the importance of cutting, of severing, of dismemberment for the perverse subject: he dreams of the paternal knife that would finally separate him from Mother and allow him to exist as his own man. Notice too that Julian's "final castration" takes place outside, in an empty field: through this paternal intervention, he is extracted from mother's body.

Of course, the super-phallic, super-castrating father that the perverse subject needs to accomplish this amputation is a formidable figure in his own right, one who is hardly better than the phallic mother in a certain sense. However, his violence is essentially just and limited by the Law, whereas the violence of the maternal superego knows no limits.

Julian's fight with Chang, in which he gets beaten up terribly, is an illustration of the logic of masochism: submit to the father in order that the father might finally castrate the phallic mother.

"Only God Forgives" is the depressing story of a perverse subject's difficult (impossible?) struggle to detach himself from an obscene, oppressive maternal superego. He doesn't really succeed. At the end, the disappearance of Julian's mother his simply led to the masochistic fetishization of Chang. The movie's last scene is ambiguous. Does it show us that Julian cannot see Chang as a man he might one day equal, a man whose phallus he might one day possess, but as an omnipotent God on stage? Or does it show us Julian's deep love and gratitude towards the lawman powerful enough to liberate him?

The slow pacing and static shots seem gratuitous at first, but as the movie picks up steam, we begin to understand their raison d'etre: Julian lives in a dead world in which nothing can move or change because everything is paralyzed by his mother. I almost walked out after twenty minutes, but I'm glad I stayed - there are some powerful archetypal figures here. The radical otherness of Chang illustrates well the secret of paternity: in our unconscious, our fathers are all Changs. The movie is worth seeing for this character alone.
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An atmospheric tale of revenge, and not the sequel for Drive
Some random dude24 May 2013
Critics have gone way too hard on this movie. Lots of violent, strange et slow films have been presented at the Cannes film festival since its creation but yet every time a film pushes the boundaries of violence while keeping its own style, most critics go mad and sometimes shout at the screening, even leaving the theater before the end and calling it "outrageous". This film, along with "Anti-Christ" is a perfect example of the type of scandals that go on at Cannes for quite stupid reasons.

First of all, forget about Drive. If you know Nicolas Winding Refn's style and like it then you'll enjoy this movie but if you've only seen Drive and believe this is going to be in the same style (because of the same actor, similar cinematography, same musical style...) believe me you'll be disappointed. The trailer might give this impression, but this film is very different. The director had already made other movies just like this, but they did not encounter a really large audience. His works were mostly known by cinephiles, artsy people and intellectuals interested in film analysis (in a general way of course). Drive was his first really big success and also his first film taking place in America, starring a worldwide known star (Gosling) and going deep into its message while keeping a more specific style than his other films.

Here Refn feels a lot more philosophical, and comes back to his original style in directing films such as Valhalla Rising : great visuals, slow-pasted action, scenes that seem a bit detached from one-another, deep character development, little dialogue, extreme violence mixed with soft and/or trance-electro music... all of which are here to deal with philosophical, deep, hard subjects like revenge, good and bad, mother/son relationship etc...

When it comes to the acting Gosling does not disappoints however this time Refn wanted to do the opposite that he did in Drive : showing the weakness of his character. Also, even though he does pull-off a very convincing performance, Kristin Scott Thomas is surprisingly captivating and gives her character a much more "real" dimension than it could have been (like it is most of the time, when a woman is supposed to play a drug-lord badass). But saving the best for the end, Vithaya Pansringarm, an actor totally unknown to me until know, plays wonderfully his role as the mystical bad guy, and really did surprise me by the quality of his acting. He completely understood the movie's atmosphere and makes his character feel mysterious and fascinating.

To sum-up this is a very atmospheric, deep movie with great actors/actresses and dealing with difficult and serious themes, with some philosophical analysis possible, but definitely not in the same style as Drive, even though it has some similarities with it.
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People are missing the point
sephev26 July 2013
It's a shame that people seem to be missing the point behind this film. However, on one's first sitting, it's easily done - Refn's style and pace may fool you into thinking this is a dull, slow film. The long, seemingly unending shots of actors staring into the distance may make you question Mat Newman's (the editor) talent. But what you really need to do is to look deeper into the film, because behind the extreme violence, the beautiful cinematography & production design and questionable reality, there is an interesting message. That message really depends on how you interpret the film, and differentiates from person to person.

For instance, Vithaya Pansringarm's character can be perceived in a variety of ways - a silent angel out to balance the injustices of his city, a delusional man who thinks of himself as God, or a vengeful cop who is simply out to do his job. Ryan Gosling's Julian can be seen as a confused soul who is out to avenge someone he clearly despised, someone who is bullied into action by his persuasive mother. Kristen Scott Thomas's excellent portrayal of Crystal, Julian's thoroughly unpleasant mother, acts as a wedge between the two of them. And the motives of each of these characters are questionable throughout.

It's certain that Refn's ninth feature film is not a simple crime drama as you might have expected. Its twists and turns will almost certainly surprise you, and it will linger on your mind long after the credits roll. It makes you question what was real and what was not in a way I've never seen in cinema before. And it really is a shame that a lot of people seem to completely miss the brilliance and genius behind it.
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Slow, so slow
Havgar24 May 2013
If you've seen Drive, then you should know that this movie is nothing like it, except perhaps in the fact that they are both beautifully shot. Drive had a pretty brisk pace, good dialogue, a plot that went somewhere, and a likable character.

Only God Forgives had none of that. This is a movie which moves along at a snail's pace, and even at a runtime of 90 minutes, it feels like many hours go by before even a single thing happens. Even the characters move and turn slowly.

The plot, such as it is, you would probably find worth watching, but Nicolas Winding Refn peppers it with pseudo-dream sequences and many pointless scenes that drag on for ever, so that the plot becomes hard to stay interested in.

Now, some things you might care about.

The acting. Ryan Gosling, of whom I was a fan in his earlier days, plays the same character from Drive, except that here he is indeed even more emotionless. He speaks about 5 lines during the whole movie, and has fewer different facial expressions. Kristin Scott Thomas is very good, although she feels underused. She is definitely the strong point of this movie. Vithaya Pansringarm, who plays a prominent role in the movie, is as expressionless as Gosling, although he is somewhat better, in my opinion.

Action scenes do exist, and they do resemble those from Drive, in that they are very matter-of-factly and visceral. Here, Winding Refn has really indulged in a lot of gratuitous gore, although overall, I found the action scenes quite entertaining. One particular one showcases Byron Gibson's acting talents, and it is particularly (and hilariously) cringe-worthy.

All the characters in this movie are unlikable. It is extremely difficult to get yourself to care for any of them, including Gosling's, who is arguably the protagonist here.

Aside from Scott Thomas' acting, the only other redeeming quality of this film is the excellent way in which most scenes are set up and shot. The sets, the camera movement, the placement of the actors, all of these make up for some truly gorgeous shots.

Overall, sad as I am to say it, I cannot recommend seeing Only God Forgives.
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Lynchian Bangkok
toonunit20 July 2013
Those giving this movie 1/10 are saying far more about their own absolute ignorance of film and extreme immaturity than they are about this movie. I don't expect everyone to like this film - it is certainly not for fans of Hollywood blockbusters and those who start their reviews with statements similar to 'I went to see this movie because I like Ryan Gosling/Kristin Scott Thomas' render all further comments null and void - their opinions are simply worthless and cannot be taken seriously.

The cinematography is excellent and the acting superb. Those complaining of Gosling's lack of animation are completely missing the point that his character is empty and completely subjugated beneath the force of his mother. This movie is full of symbolism, psychology and philosophy and every shot and sequence masterfully executes the portrayal and exploration of these themes. Distinct allusions to David Lynch are apparent but these do not come off as derivative but rather as homage.

If you like Hollywood blockbusters or Rom-Coms stay away from this movie and don't bother deriding this movie due to your own lack of mature and critical thinking. On the other hand, if you appreciate excellent cinematography and exploring deeper themes of the unconscious, however dark they may be, do not be put off by the extremism of those giving this movie 1/10 and go and decide for yourself.
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Depending on what you look for in a film you could either consider to be an artwork or a let down
dme3-624-95696024 May 2013
I went into the movie theater looking forward to this film. Expecting something along the likes of Drive, which was a great cinematic experience in my opinion, I got to see something which had similarities in execution and style but turned out to be a very different movie from the latter.

Without saying too much I will say that this will be one of the weirdest movie experiences you will ever get. It has the same type of artwork that made Drive such a great accomplishment but it takes it a little further. This is done to a point where you can either choose to relate to its ruthlessness and brutality ( it is an extremely violent film) or discard it for it. The setting and scenes are played out beautifully but the pacing feels off as it builds up really slow and never gains pace throughout the showing. At times you feel like you are witnessing scenes from a wonderfully shot masterpiece, yet the next moment it can be as if these scenes add up to nothing substantial. To me it feels as if the director has been overly ambitious and at particular moments he managed to make it work but overall it doesn't hit home. It tries so hard to be memorable and refreshing that at times it turns into a parody of itself.

This being said I still enjoyed it for what it was and though the brutality and violence won't be for anyone to be appreciated ( it gets very raunchy)it's an experience I'm glad I did not miss out on. Some other people in the theater where less forgiving ( no pun intended) and left it running for the exit. It's not as accessible as you would want it to be, and it's not as great as it feels it could have been but if you want to watch a film you won't be able to wrap your head around entirely for the next few days I'd say: give it a shot. You might find it worth your while. I certainly found it to be so. A decent piece of artwork or a let down? Depending on what you look for in a film you can only consider it to be one or the other.
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Fascinating ! - A masterpiece
MikeHenSeven10 June 2013
Don't expect to see Drive's sequel, it would make no sense ! If you don't know Refn's movie you've got to know 3 important things : - He makes contemplative movies. With a lot of silence and a minimalist screenplay. - He said "Art is an act of violence" so don't expect to see a peaceful movie. - Drive is the least representative movie of his style.

You'll need to create yourself a part of the story because it's a movie between reality and nightmare. It's a philosophical and metaphysical movie. A true experimental & artistic movie.

This movie is fascinating ! Cinemathography is beautifully worked, use of the red light is perfect, framing also. Production design and the places make us perfectly return in the dark side of the film. We remain completely speechless front of the pictures that are beautiful, surprising and deeply disturbing. Violence becomes poetry.

The story speaks about the male impotence, revenge is put on side, there is no real hero. Just the story of a lost man who seeks his way, other side a cop who thinks he is God. It's to the spectator to find the morals of the story.

The music (electro-pop) and Vithaya's interpretations are in total agreement with the progression of the story and the pictures.

The actors succeed in transmitting the feelings and impressions of the characters with simple glances.

We leave the room completely disturbed, while being posed full with questions, trying to assimilate all the asked questions by the artist, but completely fascinated and excited !

It is simple either one loves, or one hates this film. I loved it !

Refn signs one of his best movies, he assumes completely his style and (in my opinion) proposes to us a real masterpiece.
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If you love cinema, you'll love this - 8/10
yaldish31 May 2013
I do understand why people hate it, that also means that I understand why people love it because I am one of them.

This movie was shot by cinematographer Larry Smith who also worked with Kubrick on 'Eyes wide shut', he made an extraordinary job shooting this picture because it was mesmerizing and beautiful to watch from the beginning to the end. It was also an amazing movie experience, it's one of those movies that you just give yourself over to. If you are a fan of movies and a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn then I think you will absolutely love this.

I read that a lot of people are complaining about this movie being thin on story and whatnot, well, let me put it like this; if Refn wanted a "story" he would give it a "story". He doesn't have anything to prove on that point because he already showed us that he can do it if he wants to, and I think once you let go of that then it will be a lot more easier to enjoy and experience this movie because it is a movie that is based on ideas which is clearly what Nicolas Winding Refn is focusing on rather than having a moving plot or story.

The atmosphere in this movie was really something, it was almost as if you were a part of it thanks to this movie being very slow paced, and that's why I've always been a big fan of slow-paced movies. "Chang", who is "God", was so coldblooded that even I as a viewer felt that it will be impossible for "Julian" to actually try to kill him - and then that last fighting sequence came. All the actors did a very good job and gave convincing performances, meaning that they didn't have to do more than what was already in the film. And I loved the fact that our protagonist got beaten down to a point where we couldn't see his normal face, and I liked the relationship that Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Crystal had (Kristen Thomas) because I could feel that strange mother-to-son love type of relationship even though it was very tense, that probably has to do with good chemistry between the two actors. This movie also had very good soundtracks which added another great layer to it. I guess if David Lynch were to make an extremely violent movie, I think it would look something like this, there were indeed some Lynch-moments in there and some Kubrick shots which I absolutely loved. As much as this movie made me cringe I could not stop enjoying it, it was all in a positive way. I think Refn at one point called this a Thai-western about a man who is fighting against god, and I couldn't stop thinking about that whilst I was watching it because that's exactly what it is.

People can trash this movie all they want, we even had two people walking out of the theater. But the fact that some critics gave it a 100/100 and others gave it below 50/100 should tell you a lot. But at the end of the day, I think if you really want to know what you think of this film, you will have to go and see it for yourself.
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Great style, crap everything else
evan_harvey18 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
1 out of 10? Yep, it was "awful".

The story is okay, if thin. It seems to be trying to be arty and stylish, but despite looking superb, there is zero substance. There are no real questions being asked, no real characters being developed, and a threadbare story. All that means is this is a film of art for art's sake, which was always the refuge of the uninspired.

Ryan Gosling sucked. He just stands around, saying virtually nothing, no expression, no emotion, nothing. It was bizarre. Maybe that's how it was supposed to be, but all that means is that you have a dull, lifeless movie.

Kristin Scott Thomas sucked. Zero acting effort.

The script is s**t too. Very little dialogue, which would be fine except that the end result is weird conversations with zero emotion, zero acting, and bizarre pauses where no one talks.

And then there's some reasonably serious swearing, which when added to the s**t dialogue just sounds weird and odd.

The best parts were the Bangkok night scenery. The lighting is great (lots of red light, purple etc), but it is simply a s**t film. This film deserves nothing but contempt for wasting my money and time. If it had been free, it still wouldn't be worth it, but at least I'd only have my wasted time to complain about.
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Don't actually spend money on this. Please.
DumondBatman5 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I realize that not all movies can have fast-paced action sequences, or a perfectly linear/understandable plot, or what you would consider to be "normal" characters and/or character interaction.

But this particular movie manages single-handedly to avoid all of the above.

And add in some heavily awkward/nonsensical scenes where an Asian police officer does Karaoke, while the entire bar sits in complete and utter silence (literally no movement in the room as this person sings, and these scenes draw onwards for at least 5 to 10 minutes. In the middle of the movie).

I...can't describe how bad this movie is. It's not "art", it's not even particularly striking or disturbing like a David Lynch movie.

It's just nonsense for the sake of nonsense, featuring Ryan Gosling uttering all of five syllables and NOT CHANGING HIS EXPRESSION for the entire film.

Spoiler alert: the final scene, insane and nonsensical as it may be, is cut off by (you guessed it) yet another scene of a cop singing at a karaoke bar.

At that point the entire movie theater I was at got on its feet and left.

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Ambitious one...
renatofernandesz128 July 2013
After Drive, i was very curious to see what he was doing next.

This movie was fairly ambitious in its own ways, visually is a stunning mix of colors and beautiful composed shots, which elevates the whole mood of the movie. The story itself is a fairly simple one, however it is told in a way in which depended heavily on the actors performance, and this is were the movie fails. the way some of the actors fail to act the parts almost like shadows of themselves, sometimes overacting and being too much aware of the camera detracts from Nicolas intentions. Gosling is good here, so is Kristin Scott Thomas, the rest of the cast is hit or miss in some scenes. The overall surreal way of telling this story could've worked a lot better if they had solved those issues. I liked the subtext behind the whole relationship between Chang (who in is own ways has a twisted God complex) and Julian's character.

In the end it makes me a little sad, i think with a little more time put into working with the actors, it could've elevated the movie to another level, also without spoiling anything, i think the out of the box scenes could've been pushed a little more!! 7 out of 10!!
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melisakurtay8 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I went to the film mainly for Kristin Scott Thomas, as in the trailer I got excited by seeing her transforming into a villain.

She was still great in OGF. She might be the only good thing.

My first opinion about the film is that, it is so obsessed about aesthetic that they didn't care there was no meaningful script. Pretentious written all over it.

It is as if Ryan Gosling just came from his home with the same outfits, same hairstyle he has in his everyday life and giving the same looks over and over again in nearly most of his films. Its like a staring contest with Ryan Gosling. He is not mysterious. He is not meaningful. Its not that he expresses so many emotions with his eyes. And what can he express with such a rootless character.

No dialogue written. Thats OK. Thats a choice. Not every film needs to be filled with non-stop smart lines. But what counts is what is written as dialogue. Here it fails big time. I read in some reviews that they say film is slow. I'm OK with a film being slow but if a man walks half his speed just to look cool or moves half his speed just to look mysterious it looks silly and boring. Police singing, doing karaoke in the bar, the prostitute just being there looking pretty and in pain, all the wallpapers etc. they all irritated me as its so "look at me i'm so cool and enigmatic wow". Its hard to pull that off. Takashi Miike, David Lynch they can pull that off.

As a fan of Asian films, this seemed a like a 4 year old little boy who wants to be like his 25 year old cool uncle. A long way to go. Its just sad that so many films that are actually similar to this "wannabe film"'s story exist. But they don't have big names like Ryan Gosling in it. So no one is even aware of those.

Being a good director should mean combining aesthetics and good story.

Kristin Scott Thomas is great to watch and if you like gore there are some scenes you would enjoy but other than that...

What a waste.
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pointless, boring and just plain bad.
shoutatthesky20 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
If you like movies that have a very weak plot, many pointless scenes, the addition of dream sequences that add nothing to the plot and only confuse, characters that are not explained and which it is therefore very hard to care about, and many shots of the characters looking into the distance with little emotion on their face and seemingly little on their mind then this is the film for you. I don't mind films that are unique and don't fit the usual Hollywood format but there are things that are essential to a good film such as interesting characters, a plot of some sort and some clue as to what is going on being given but those things are missing from this film. I was so confused and mainly just bored throughout this film. I expected better things from Gosling. And I have enjoyed Refn's other films so I am not just a mainstream film lover only but this effort was just bad film making.
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Hope God Forgives Director,Cast & Writers
merylmatt4 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There are only 2 reasons I watched this film until the end. To see if the ending was as bad as the rest of the movie (it's worse, if possible) and to review the whole movie fairly.

Wooden acting, lousy script writing. Predictable and tired plot. No suspense.

Ryan Gosling runs a fight club which is really a front for drug operation. Possible spoilers: His brother gets killed, Ryan does not avenge the death and mommy flies in from the states to set things right. Only she doesn't. It gets worse and worse and finally it ends.

Nothing redeeming about this one.
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A missed opportunity.
Troy_Campbell19 July 2013
Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn's first Hollywood picture Drive is one of the best films of the millennium, hands down. His Thailand-set revenge saga feels like a natural extension of that masterpiece, albeit a very boring and pretentious one. Where Drive was slow-burning and enrapturing, OGF is slow and uninteresting; where Ryan Gosling's Driver was charismatic and compelling, his drug-dealing enigma here is dull and vacuous; Drive's violence was impactful and meaningful, the brutality in this is nasty and pointless. There are, however, two shining lights that save this from being completely unwatchable. The neon-lit cinematography is simply stunning and quite often disguises the senselessness of what is actually going on, whilst the ballsy performance from Kristen Scott Thomas as Gosling's reprehensible white-trash mother is a terrific display of her versatility and deserving of a much better movie. A missed opportunity that suggests Refn is a hit and miss prospect.
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Worth watching
tr9131 July 2013
This film is worth watching, it is very gripping and suspenseful. There isn't much dialouge at all, it is mostly just atmospheric. The plot is relatively simple, a chain of people killing others who are then linked to someone else. The ending is left open to your imagination too. There are some really gruesome scenes in this movie but this sort of thing was needed to keep the viewer gripped on the way the story was unfolding. Ryan Gosling was a very mysterious character again (as in Drive) and he portrayed this very well. The supporting cast were also good.

Overall I found this film to be quite good, was a relatively short film but I didn't feel it was 'dragging' like some said. I preferred 'Drive' but this one is still worth a watch.

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Quite possibly the most tedious revenge movie ever made.
BA_Harrison1 June 2014
Drive, the previous movie from director Nicholas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling, utilised a deliberate and rather stilted style that not only resulted in a unique air of cool but which also had the effect of making the movie's explosive scenes of violence more impactful. In Only God Forgives, Refn and Gosling repeat this sparing, slow-burn technique, but take it to the nth degree; this time around the effect is to completely bore the crap out of the viewer.

Quite simply, Only God forgives has got to be one of the most excruciating exercises in cinema it has ever been my misfortune to witness. Every pan, track or zoom is agonisingly drawn out, the camera movement often being almost imperceptible. A good percentage of scenes comprise of corridors, or people not moving, or people moving very slowly, or karaoke performances (slow songs, of course). Virtually every scene is lit in either red or blue, which gets extremely irritating. Gosling's brooding expression remains the same throughout the entire film. Conversations take an age to unfold. Minutes seem like hours. Hours seem like days. Time eventually loses all meaning.

Even the film's few scenes of brutal violence are shot in such a way as to render them totally boring.

Art-house types will love the film (or at least pretend to), finding hidden meaning and symbolism in its languorous plot and mind-bogglingly dull execution, but most right-minded people will quite rightly dismiss this for the utter garbage that it is.
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Unjustly booed away at Cannes
Auke Briek26 May 2013
Nicolas Winding Refn's new feature, Only God Forgives is a good film, his best offering I've seen so far. This is not only style over substance, but (like Spring Breakers) also style as substance. A grim mood is created through long stretches of brooding red lights reflected on faces, while the violent outbursts seem to be discharges of visually overcharged surroundings, with electricity built up after long silences with lots of eye candy, stylized framing and an exciting electronic/ambient score by Cliff Martinez. All of this underlines the desires, motivations, and emotional experiences of a bunch of messed up characters. So you could say that, the mood and the meaning are meant to be "the residue" of the style, just as Korine explained his intention for Spring Breakers. This is why both films are not empty stylistic offerings, but resonate on a deep affective level. And, because a non-narrative substance can be incorporated into the style, to pursue the ideal of style over narrative substance is not superficial per se. What is also positive, is that unlike Drive (and Bronson), the narrative substance that remains is not messy per se, just lightweight. Although the story is quite simple and pure in execution, it is certainly strange, abstract, and a little drawn out. Especially the beginning relies mostly on mood, leaving little time for traditional story-telling. This worked for me, but I can understand that many others find it tedious. There is a lot of ambiguity, mostly having to do with the mysterious motivations behind Gosling's character. He has the same elation on his face as in Drive, but more perverted and strange this time. Apart from this there are a few abstract/absurd elements in the story: for instance, certain characters meet each other in paradoxical and inexplicable ways. But to me this was more a matter of deliberate ambiguity and mystery than messiness. The film is also extremely violent. Not constantly, more like a series of intense hits after long silences. This is not primarily used to entertain or bludgeon the viewer, but more to convey the moral conflict going on in Gosling's character. And the final scene may have felt completely weird and ridiculous to many people (I heard much laughter in disbelief), but to me it made perfect sense, albeit in an absurd way, because it seemed to be the only resolution to the conflict going on in his mind. The song at the end just felt like the perfect continuation of the beautiful absurdity just before it.
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Refn made the film he wanted to
TheMarwood20 July 2013
I will give credit where credit is due and if you're going to make an indulgent, obtuse and anti- audience film, keeping your budget at a very reasonable $4m is the responsible way to go. But beyond being fiscally responsible for his investors, Refn has taken many steps backwards, producing something very immature. It's neon lit nonsense for 90 minutes without a modicum of restraint. For a film that is so director and DP centric, it's a surprisingly lifeless film. May I suggest for the future, feeding Gosling some amphetamines or Ritalin before each scene - not Vicodin or some other opiate. If this is what Refn needed to make to get out of his system so he can then grow as a filmmaker, I understand. He made the film he wanted to. Now please show progress as the talented filmmaker you are. There's soulless generic products released every week to theaters and this is a film fueled with passion. It shows. It really does. It's a one of a kind disaster. The kind of film you can practically see the director giving the middle finger to the audience.
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Will be regarded as a classic in years to come.
robhartjr4 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I know that we all have our opinions, but the outrageously negative reviews this film is getting is ridiculous. My real score is closer to an 8.5/10, but I put 10/10 to help with the low score. Most of the harsh comments are from people who have only seen "Drive" and no other film by Nicolas Winding Refn. They keep comparing the films, and finding things to hate because it wasn't what they wanted from a 'sorta' sequel to "Drive". You can pretend this is a sequel to "Drive" since we never really learn about the Drivers life in the movie. You can just think that after the ending of "Drive", the Driver flees back to Bangkok where his brother is and then the events of "Only God Forgives" take place. Thats just a small possible plot line for if you wanna think this is a sequel to "Drive", even though there is a real sequel to the "Drive" novel called "Driven" that might get a film adaptation one day. But back to this movie.

*Plot*Julian runs a thai boxing club as a disguise for a drug business. One day his brother kills a young prostitute and is in turn killed by the girls father as allowed by a disturbing cop named Chang. Julians mother flies in to claim the corpse and learns that Julian let the killer go. She orders one of Julians partners to have the man who killed her son killed. This starts a series of revenge murders between Chang, Julian and his mother.

There are some similarities to "Drive" and other Refn movies here of course. The directing style and cinematography is very beautiful and gives the film a dreamy feel at times, and sometimes a nightmarish feel. Ryan Gosling basically loses all emotions for the character here. Kristin Scott Thomas character can be compared to Albert Brooks character from "Drive". But Kristin does an even more sadistic job and is relentlessly evil in this movie. You don't love her, but you don't hate her. None of the characters in this movie are really likable at all. Every evil decision has another evil decision from another character to counter it. During some parts of the movie Goslings character shows that he has a slight conscience of what is right and wrong. You don't feel bad for his brother being killed based on the crime he committed though. The only parts where you will really like Gosling is when he says the soon to be classic "Wanna fight?" line and when his character makes good moral decisions despite his emotionless delivery. But I will say this, if you are only seeing this movie because it stars Ryan Gosling, then be warned. This is nothing like any film you've seen before.

There are some really picturesque shots in this film. You could pause at almost any instant and it would look like a painting you can hang up somewhere. There are very long scenes that drag out for what feels like forever, but I at least thought they were better than the agonizing "Valhalla Rising" film as a whole. Some scenes are very weird and will put a lot of people off. There is a scene involving Goslings characters dead mother that will surely make anyone cringe. Many people who don't have open minds about films will trash this film, and walk out on it. But that doesn't make it a bad film at all. This isn't for everybody thats for sure. That's the beauty of it. I also need to mention the soundtrack. The music features more of the 80s influenced synths from "Drive". Cliff Martinez who did the score for "Drive" and helped with the soundtrack is back scoring this film. While the score for "Drive" was nice, most people only remember the catchy pop/electronic songs featured the movie. However his score for this movie is better in my opinion. Though the soundtrack doesn't feature catchy 80s style pop songs, the score is more memorable and sorta reminds me of Daft Punks score for "Tron: Legacy". There are even parts of the soundtrack that sound similar to "The Shining". It really does sound great with the scenery and contrasts the violence. Oh the violence. If you have a weak stomach then be prepared. Remember the head stomping elevator scene from "Drive"? The violence makes that scene look PG. The violence along with some of the trippy visuals really make the film very disturbing at times. The violence is also one thing people are criticizing. I can't defend the violence, but I will tell you that the scenery in every scene is gorgeous. Oh and speaking of "The Shining" there are hallway scenes that remind me of Kubricks filming style!

I think that we could give this movie time to be liked. I just wish I could have seen the reaction from many movie goers if this movie had a wide release in the US. I think as this movie finds a release on Blu Ray/DVD that the ratings will slowly go up. Maybe there will even be an extended directors cut. This movie will probably become a cult classic in years to come. The low score here will go up into at least a 7/10 I hope. The low scores on other prominent movie sites will most likely go up too as people start to open there minds for this film and stop comparing it to "Drive". But if you don't like different, weird, violent, trippy movies, then I can't recommend this to you. Otherwise, be prepared for some crazy weird scenes!
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This film is pure style
Ruben Mooijman3 June 2013
Basically, there are two kinds of films. Firstly, there are genre-pictures, using established cinematographic conventions, trying to please the audience. They may be good or bad, but are never shocking, disturbing or ground-breaking. Secondly, there are films ignoring conventions, and deliberately keeping distance from mainstream movie-making. Their aim is not necessarily to entertain, but rather to provoke, to shock or to disturb. They may be good or bad, but they don't leave the audience indifferent.

Clearly, 'Only God Forgives' belongs to the latter group. The quality of this film is not about the plot twists, the character developments or the witty dialogue. There aren't any. This film is pure style. The only thing that matters is cinematography and atmosphere. And there's a lot of that.

The film is set in Bangkok, which is shown as a dimly lit cityscape full of violent characters without any moral feeling. There's almost no daylight in the film, and neither any emotion. A senseless killing sets in motion a series of extremely violent acts. These are shown in settings full of contrasts - the most memorable and most violent scene takes place in a karaoke bar full of young women, watching the bloody proceedings in a state of pure indifference.

The film sometimes is very slow. But this, and the very effective soundtrack, adds to the sinister atmosphere. One great scene shows a sort of garden, with a man and a young boy sitting in a corner. Very slowly, the camera moves towards them, while the music indicates something creepy is about to happen. You keep looking out for the danger that is supposed to be hiding in a corner, but then the film cuts and the camera angle reverses 180 degrees, so that the audience sees what the man and the boy see: an army of corrupt cops, with the most sadistic one in the front row.

In this film, the acting is not about showing emotions, but rather about hiding them. An easy job for Ryan Gosling, who only has to show a poker face and act cool. It's Kristin Scott-Thomas who's stealing the show in this film. Her role is miles away from the British stiff-upper-lipped parts or the French character roles she is most famous for. She plays a super vulgar woman without any conscience, and she does it so well that I doubt if I would have recognized her if I wouldn't have known she was in the cast.

The thing that struck me most about this film is how Asian it seems to be. Not only the emotionless acting and the stylish cinematography, but also the extreme, almost sadistic violence is something you wouldn't expect from a Danish director. He himself seems indeed to emphasize this, by using Thai characters for the opening and end credits.
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Red and blue cocoon of irrelevance
p-stepien21 May 2014
Hot of the heels of his breakthrough to the big league, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn delivers a vivid pastel of imagery firmly situated on top of a self-flagellating revenge flick, which makes Johnnie To look like Akira Kurosawa. When Billy (Tom Burke), one of two brothers leading a drug trafficking ring and muay-thai fighting arena, haplessly decides to go on a hunt to rape and kill a underage prostitute, he is soon exacted punishment through the actions of police lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). This in turn brings about a spiralling circle of violence, when their mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) attempts to induce vengeful retribution on those responsible, despite the half-hearted opposition of the quietly numb younger sibling Julian (an ever-distant Ryan Gosling).

With "Drive" as a reference point, Refn seemingly intended to push the envelope further down the road, replacing the withdrawn anti-hero with a tirade of depraved villains, offering only two characters: Chang and Julian any sort of moral code, however skewed and lopsided it may be. This essentially makes neither the story nor the characters relatable in the slightest, making the almost oniric film language painted with red and blue (to an extreme not ventured into since the glory days of Dario Argento) a distanced voyage into a dark fable of gloom and doom. Depending on your taste buds this is undoubtedly a hit-and-miss type of movie, easily attention grabbing with its artsy endeavour in bloody circles of violence, but lacking essential movie meat underneath the skinned body. As such it can be admired for its crazed trippiness or for the beautiful suddenness of splattered carcasses.

This beautiful cocoon of irrelevance is essentially good viewing, but despite its adventurous experimentation it still seemed overly derivative of Hong Kong, Korean or other East Asian revenge dramas. Nonetheless Refn boldly borrows aesthetics and even some concepts or specific scenes, successfully transposing the language into a Western- made movie (a success in itself) without a hint of pastiche or reverence. From a filmmaking point of view a success, but with characters so detached from viewer interest it comes off more as a failed experiment into the formation of an alternative 'non-hero' protagonist.
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Annoying and Pretentious
bettyblogger7124 May 2013
There isn't a lot of dialog because there isn't much of a plot. What there is, is at best, clumsy and predictable. I am not sure that it was even that believable.

There is however lots of silence, dark brooding nothingness, Thai Karaoke, lots of blood and questionable sexual relations of one sort or another. Perhaps these elements were supposed to fill the void. However it was not enough.

Great performances from all the cast but even they couldn't save it. At times Ryan Gosling just looked lost and bewildered and I don't think he was acting. I found it annoying and pretentious.
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Absolute rubbish
Quazoosl26 June 2013
I think that either you will love this film, or absolutely hate it. I am in the latter category and here's why.

Because of the focus on scenery and the lingering shots the pace is dreadfully slow. There are shots where there is no movement at all I was sometimes wondering if I was looking at a picture or a film. The characters show little to no emotion and I couldn't identify myself with one single character. Sometimes it looks like all they do is stare. In my opinion the plot is simple, but unrealistic because of the strange choices the characters make. Halfway through I nearly got up and left.

Being honest I have to compliment though on the beautiful scenery and use of colours and light.
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maykie_720 July 2013
A masterpiece? If you like cinema you'll like this film? Tragicomedy! OK let me tell you, I really enjoyed Bronson as a film, however, both Drive and Only God Forgives are nothing more than beautiful women with lots of make up on them but without any brain.

It seems to me like Nicholas Windin Refn got spoiled and lost his mind with the expensive filming toys and A class actors from Hollywood. As well as, this film must have been a desperate cry to be considered an unique film-maker.

"Cinema" is; telling a story with images. And if the story does not exist or not to be cared for, beautiful imagery does not create a cinema alone. That's why Nicholas Winding Refn will continue shooting fancy perfume commercials.
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