108 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2013
Ever since catching a whiff of the plot for Only God Forgives on the internet a few years ago, the film was at the top of my watch-list. Once the movie's subversive first poster (a beat up Ryan Gosling and the title of the film) came to light, I knew it was going to be an event. My own excitement aside, I must admit that Only God Forgives is not for everyone; it's not even meant for everyone who enjoyed Nicolas Winding Refn's previous Gosling collaboration Drive.
Only God Forgives has some of the most shockingly ornate film violence in recent memory and that very same aestheticized violence is what has been earning it shaky reviews from critics (currently 38% at Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this review) and audiences (Currently 6.2 on IMDB) alike. What it all comes down to is how much you can appreciate the art of filmmaking. That may sound like the most pretentious critic statement of all time, but Only God Forgives is a film that has absorbed its influence from many cinematic greats. Throughout the movie I could not stop recalling Stanley Kubrick films like The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut. Eventually the credits reveal that Kubrick's frequent crew member Larry Smith was the director of photography for Refn on this picture. Kubrick is not the only auteur whose influence can be seen in this film. Artists like David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky (whom the film is dedicated to) can be recognized by the seasoned eye.
One of the criticisms in customer reviews is the film's violence. Only God Forgives is not for viewers with weak stomachs or squeamish tendencies.If someone reading this is considering showing this to their kids for any reason I can confidently say that they should keep their children under the age of 16 as far away from this movie as possible. Refn delivers the most stylish film of the year so far and I'm a sucker for gorgeous colors and haunting cinematography; Only God Forgives has the look of a film that I treasure and more. At the risk of of sounding like a complete droog, I also dig aestheticized violence. I also dig great performances which OGF is not short on. Gosling and Scott Thomas are solid, but the actor who I had never really taken in before this is Vithaya Pansringarm. Pansringarm's stolid-faced performance as Chang is as badass as it is mystifying. At one point in the film, Chang sings karaoke in front of a group of police officers. How he manages to maintain the high levels of intimidation, I'll never know, but Pansringarm is a brutal pleasure to watch onscreen.
I notice in many customer reviews that people are complaining of the film's lack of plot. I disagree with this assertion. It's not that Only God Forgives has no plot, it does, however it is seldom explained through dialogue. Refn accomplishes a rarity in this day and age; telling a story through the visual language of film. It's what movie's were meant to do; it's what silent film's did for decades. However, while Refn does tell the story through artistic means, it is not exactly a wholly original story for a thriller. What makes the screenplay of OGF so intriguing for those willing to give it a chance is the disturbing textures that Refn gives to the heavily symbolic characters. Only God Forgives has the potential to be analyzed like a short story or an allegorical novel and is rife with justifiable psychological readings.
What audiences should NOT go into Only God Forgives expecting is:
A. An effort similar to Drive
B. Ryan Gosling in romantic and/or shirtless mode
C. Anything resembling a commercial "fighting" movie like Never Back Down or The Fighter
I encourage every film viewer to give Only God Forgives a chance, but they should prepare to be challenged and unsettled by this highly divisive work of art.
49 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Controversial as this film already is (the critics hate it, those who have watched it either hate or love it), it is a solid stretch of cinematic art by writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. He is an artist who challenges audiences and takes enormous risks: his 1996 film, the extremely violent and uncompromising PUSHER became a cult phenomenon and won Refn instant international critical acclaim. That was followed by BLEEDER and the now cult classic DRIVE. Each of these films is highly stylized and focuses on introverted reactions to outward situations. ONLY GOD FORGIVES pushes those traits even further: completely set in Thailand it weighs in on Asian symbolism, spiritualism and response to revenge or own hand rights. It is very dark, both in the cinematography of Larry Smith and in the ever-present veneer of killing and death and mutilation. The entire film is a study in color manipulation, slow movement (as in Noh theater), minimal dialog, and even more minimal character development. And yet somehow Refn makes all of this work to his advantage to hold the audience, as though imprisoned, to examine the extents of evil.
The setting is Bangkok. Ten years ago Julian (Ryan Gosling) killed a man and went on the run. Now he manages a Thai boxing club as a front for a drugs operation. Respected in the criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty. When Julian's brother Billy (Tom Burke) murders an underage prostitute, the police call on retired cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) - the Angel of Vengeance whose other obsession is Karaoke singing. Chang allows the father to kill his daughter's murderer, then 'restores order' by chopping off the man's right hand. Julian's mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) - the foul-mouthed nasty head of a powerful criminal organization - arrives in Bangkok to collect her favorite first son's body. She charges Julian to find his killers and 'raise hell'. Despite being beaten severely in a fight with Chang, Julian's inability to react to anything - even to the physical relationship with a strange girl Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) - leads to mayhem that in many ways does not even seem to affect him.
The casting is strange: obviously Ryan Gosling was hired for the role of Julian because of his works with Reyn in DRIVE. He is called upon to do very little and as a result we are not able to appreciate his motivation or his presence in the story. Kristin Scott Thomas is a brilliant actress but here she is merely a source of filthy accusations and Kabuki-like poses. The star of the film is Vithaya Pansringarm, and even though we loathe him and his malicious manner he alone gives us an idea of why he is doing what he is doing, framing it all with obnoxious Karaoke singing in a garish nightclub. Everything about the film is slow and dark and yet for some obscure reason it works. Grady Harp, July 13
74 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2013
Most of the critics who did not like this film criticized it on grounds that are not accurate to the film at all. People who liked drive will like this film. The violence is not close to Tarantino films. The film has beautiful technique and every sound and scene is delivered perfectly. The color contrast is excellent.
I do not know where the complaints that this film is pretentious come from. Yes it would be classified as an arthouse film and it is definitely stylized. But it is a beautiful film that anyone who takes film serious needs to see and form their own opinions about it.
I give it the movie five stars because I enjoyed every minute of it. It is cliched but not in a bad way. I do not want to reveal too much of the plot but it is a good guy versus bad people film but don't be shocked to find this cliche exciting and told in an interesting, new way.
My last bit of praise comes from the acting. Everyone was perfect and you will walk away from the film still thinking about each character. People who view this will form different opinions about each character. Kristin Scott Thomas is one of the strongest personalities in the film. (I have no clue where the misogynistic complaints come from, violence and fighting are not misogynistic. The same people who criticized this film have given praise to films with a lot of misogyny. A few characters can be misogynistic, but that is a reflection of tue reality of some people in the world. The film does not endorse misogyny and it in fact strikes it done with harsh punishment.)
If you do not exactly what to think before watching this film I'd recommend Richard Roeper's review from the Chicago Sun-Times. I loved it but not everyone will.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2013
Some of my friends wanted to see this movie after enjoying Drive. Well, I don't think we all realized how different this one was from that movie. The whole movie plays like a dream, with long shots, strange editing cuts, and sometimes pointless scenes. The "off-putting" violence I have read about in other reviews is pretty fitting here. One minute Ryan Gosling is sitting down, the next minute he is smashing a glass in some guy's face.
90% of the movie is made up of Ryan staring (he doesn't have more than 8 lines for like the first 20 minutes of the film), or the other actors just...staring. These kinds of scenes made me laugh as the characters, especially Ryan Gosling, seem emotionless. Couple that with the neon lighting and mostly night time shots, and well, it makes for a weird film.
I'm all for an artsy flick. Heck, I can really enjoy a slow-moving movie every now and then. But this is just NOT worth your time. I would have loved to have heard how they pitched this movie to a producer and received funding, because so much of this movie is just people staring (not nearly as much violence as what I have read). One final cherry on top: one thing that could have redeemed this movie, was a scene with cool-sounding Tron-esque music in which a fight scene is set up. The fight scene was short and extremely disappointing. I don't write reviews often, but I had to let others know to not waste their time on this.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2014
WOW!! what a flick. I had to watch it a second time on order to fully digest it. The camera work is beautiful and executed in a fashion that really accentuated the dark, gloomy atmosphere of the movie. There isn't much dialogue but that element was done perfectly and added to the darkness of the movie. It's a story of revenge, consequences and morality and for the most part, the plot is linear and simple. However, the movie at times changes gears and the viewer is pushed into scenes that transcend reality and show visions (or premonitions?) with hints of symbolism and metaphorical imagery. Because of that, it's a movie that does not spoon feed the viewer everything and forces a little bit of thinking. Some scenes did seem nonsensical at first but when I watched the movie a second time, it came together more.
Be warned, the violence is realistically brutal and graphic. If you prefer movies like "Red" with Bruce Willis, where the violence is tamed and cartoonish, then stay away from this one. This is not your typical Hollywood run-of-the-mill type of movie.
Out of all the main characters, Lt. Chang is the most likeable. He walks with a calm, self-assured composure and brings a strong presence wherever he goes. The viewer just knows Chang is a guy to be respected and not to be messed with. He is the type of guy that's been around the block and has seen a thing or two in his lifetime. Julian, who is played by Ryan Gosling, owns a boxing club which is really a front for his drug operation. For most of the movie, he's very apathetic and quiet. He allows himself to be verbally accosted by his overbearing and domineering mother, played brilliantly by Kristin Scott Thomas. To me, she was the most detestable character. I was satisfied when she finally got what she deserved.
I want to sum up my review by saying "Only God forgives" is a masterpiece of a movie that definitely needs to get the recognition it deserves.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2013
It is very hard to get Americans to understand the realities of martial arts, violence and Asian culture. The Thai characters in this movie is pitch perfect. I've never seen such good martial arts violence combined with such subtle acting. It's sad but inevitable that general audiences are not equipped to appreciate this film. I laughed and cried the whole way through.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2013
It doesn't have any character development to speak of, but that's the point: all of the characters are archetypes and they all serve to tell a simple story about the nature of things. In this case, the film largely deals with nature and subjective morality of revenge, but also touches on parent-child relationships (Julian's mother is kind of like Oedipus' mother), the way in which the cycle of violence affects us, and how justice is served and affects us in an abjectly cruel world. While it touches on a lot of weighty subjects, the movie still doesn't say anything truly profound, save, that violence begets more violence but that justice will eventually be served. On the quality of the film, it's what you would expect from Refn: immaculately composed cinematic images, brilliant use of color and mood and a moody soundtrack (from Cliff Martinez, who did Drive as well) which lends a certain intensity to the whole affair. Overall, this a great movie which should be seen by any self-respecting cineaste.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2013
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.
This movie is not what you would typically expect after watching say The Note Book. Do not expect this movie to be any less of a movie then Drive. [as this is the same director] You will find this movie to be quite at parts so focus you visually on what is going on, and to suck you into a depressing stupor to become one with theme of the movie. This is done well and the acting sucks you into this dark gloomy movie as the scenes unfold.
If you don't like different, weird, violent, trippy movies, then I can't recommend this to you... otherwise strap in and prepare your mind!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It's obvious that this isn't for everyone, but I and those who watched it with me were truly struck with this. It's violent, yes. It is self-consciously artistic, yes. But it has tremendous impact. Ryan Gosling is at his best, and that's good enough for anyone, I should think.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2013
"Only God Forgives" is a journey for its audience and the characters involved. We are transported to Thailand where Julian, an ex-patriate, nomad, criminal, brother, son and lost soul is driven by pure rage and working as a drug dealer. He does not react to events around him rather he is commanded to act. Longing for the love of and acceptance of a mother he is instead manipulated into carrying out a blood-letting that upon realization can never end. Vengeance can never be sated. The director establishes this later in a pivotal scene. Back to the main protagonist though whose emotional longing and hatred is contained within but when he can no longer reign it in anyone near him including himself find themselves forever altered, even the stoic police captain. Although he owns a boxing club one can easily confuse it for a temple or monastery despite the bright neon lights that wash over each scene obviously reflecting the moods of the characters. Finally without revealing any spoilers critics who complained about the lack of character development did not pay attention to Gosling's performance. Simply put he starts out being manipulated to eventually cutting himself off from those forces to walk a different path. It's unfortunate that some people will be put off by the violence and directing but this is a masterpiece. I guess critics didn't expect to see buddhism, an oedipal complex and an honest exploration of violence and its consequences in a movie where kickboxing is involved for a few scenes.