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Bangkok based boxing gym operator and drug dealer, Julian (Ryan Gosling) learns that his brother Billy (Tom Burke) has been killed after murdering a 16 year old prostitute. After retired police chief Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) lets the girl's father kill Billy (but chops his arm off), Julian has a chance to kill the father but he accepts that justice has been dealt, and lets him live. When his hard nosed drug trading mother Jenna (Kristin Scott Thomas), arrives to collect her son's body, she demands that Julian avenge his brother's death, thus setting in motion a bloody path of rage, betrayal, ultimate confrontation and possibly redemption.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
And maybe God does forgive Nicolas Winding Refn for this error of judgment of a film, but the Cannes festival audiences didn't, according to reports from our reliable source on the ground (Nick Roddick). Much anticipated after his thriller, Drive, also starring Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives seems to have jumped a spool, blurring its savage revenge plot with surreal moments of the ice cool Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) crooning on the stage of a night club - not once but twice, both times juxtaposed with bloody violence. He sings more lines of lyrics than he speaks lines of dialogue this ultra cool, sword flashing black angel of justice ... well, of his own kind.

If Chang is taciturn, Gosling is almost comatose, his face registering no emotion, whether having his hand guided up the inside of a prostitute's thigh or watching death. Chang's silent killer evokes some kind of curious interest, but Gosling's Julian leaves us disinterested and disconnected. It's only when mother from hell Kristin Scott Thomas turns up, all blonde but not dumb, in ultra high stilettos and high dudgeon, to collect her murdered son, that there is any cinematic spark. She is the film's only lasting asset.

Refn has made a deliberately confronting film (nothing wrong with that) but he has failed to infuse it with any meaning - unless you think revenge itself is meaning. Dressing the film in so much red your eyes bleed and music that knocks you down, Refn has opted for the pace of slow snails, perhaps hoping to suggest meaning by meaningful steady shots of spaces (like the red patterned interior of the brothel or nightclub, - or is it both) or shots of spaces with a single character in it.

Being so distanced from the characters and the story means audiences will become restless with the endless and gruesome violence whose ancestor seems to be resident in the films of Takeshi Kitano ... although in the end credits Refn dedicates the film to Alejandro Jodorowski. (This is perhaps a rich coincidence given that Jodorowski had his first film in decades in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes, as well as a documentary about him growing up amidst his family in Chile.) The Jodorowski reference is perhaps in respect of his 1989 film, Santa Sangre (Sacred Blood).

The most frequent response I had while watching the film was the word 'artifice' flashing in neon lights like the 'welcome' sign above the door of the whorehouse where some of the action takes place.

Review by Louise Keller:
Viciously gruesome and ugly at every turn, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's follow up to Drive is unflinching in its violence, its revenge-driven narrative in the Bangkok underworld a sharp contrast to its stylised production design and deathly slow pace. The lack of connection to any character is an emotional roadblock and the cumulative callousness of the film retches onscreen in an ugly graphic display of senselessness. Dialogue is sparse and there's an ominous quality about the imagery with its seductive red lighting and flickering shadows while the music score with its scratchy violins and eerie bass grumbles, suggests an earthquake is brewing. There's plenty to disturb and to dislike.

Ryan Gosling looks intense and bland and saying little as Julian, the younger of two brothers involved in a Thai Boxing and drug trafficking business. There are plenty of pauses, people watching, waiting, nods and knowing glances. When his brother (Tom Burke) says 'It's time to meet the devil' before making his selection from one of half a dozen prostitutes displayed like wares in a shop window, the narrative assumes a brutal, sadistic tone. All the sickening violence that follows comes as a result. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) the policeman assumes the role of God with his steel blade. He sings too, in scenes (and at moments) that are almost too bizarre to describe.

There are sharp contrasts, edits and juxtapositions, such as Gosling sitting in a dimly lit room, wrists bound to the chair in bondage by Mai (Rhatha Phongam) his prostitute of choice, who proceeds to masturbate under her skimpy dress while he watches. Elsewhere, a distinctive sound of steel whips through the air as an arm is shockingly severed before the camera returns to Mai as she climaxes.

The best thing in the film is Kristen Scott Thomas who flounces onscreen with long platinum tresses, false eyelashes, animal print and a diatribe of foul language. As Crystal, Julian's mother, she creates a monstrous creature in the film's pivotal role. Unforgettable is Julian's answer (and how he delivers it) when Mai asks why he allows his mother to speak to him in such a derogatory way. 'Because she's my mother.'

Much of the film is about mood with flickering lights, red lanterns, red beads, dragon wallpaper and the disquieting sight of blood. The ominous sound of the steel blade being drawn is repeated and becomes more disturbing on each occasion. The theatrical, slo-mo staging acts as a counterpoint to the violence and while the director's objectives may aspire to be profound with contradictory characters seeking to inflict justice, the other to find redemption, the result is far from successful.

Published November 21, 2013

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(France/Denmark, 2013)

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Byron Gibson, Gordon Brown, Sahajak Boonthanakit,

PRODUCER: Lene Berglum, Vincent Maraval

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn

SCRIPT: Nicolas Winding Refn


EDITOR: Matthew Newman

MUSIC: Cliff Martinez


RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes






DVD RELEASE: November 20, 2013

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