*Originally written May 2nd, 2016*
"Time to meet the devil"
I have a weird history when it comes to "art" films. They either rub me the wrong way and I see them as pretentious nonsense, which is what happened that first time I watched this, then I rewatch them and end up liking them more.
I still don't love Only God Forgives, but in terms of art-house films, this is still one of the more simple and accessible ones. Sure, compared to Drive, it's a complete shock in terms of difference, but a lot of elements that made Drive great are still here.
Taking place in the hazy neon lit streets of Bangkok, Only God Forgives is about a family that run Thai boxing club which fronts as a drug smuggling operation. One of the sons decides to kill a young girl and a cop with supernatural powers lets the father of the daughter to get revenge. The brother isn't too upset about the death, seeing as he deserved it, but their mother decides that revenge must be taken.
The story is mostly fuelled by imagery. The dialogue is kept to a minimum. The lead character played by Ryan Gosling only speaks "17 lines" according to the internet, which is probably accurate. His performance was fine though, a lot of his emotion is conveyed through facial expressions, which works most of time, although it can get a bit frustrating.
I will say Kristen Scott Thomas's performance was excellent as the terrifying crime mother of the piece. She gets given the most vicious and horrible lines to say.
There's a lot of background to these deplorable characters that we get hints of through odd throwaway line. It's implied Ryan Gosling's mother and his brother had an incestuous relationship that he was jealous of and something happened that led to him beating his father to death and fleeing to Bangkok.
It's all so strange. The story is very straight forward, but told through such an abstract way. There honestly is not a lot of development out of these characters. The closest we get to this is a change of heart Gosling's character has at the end.
This feels more of a mood piece than an actual story led experience. It terms of visuals, this film utterly shines, we get the red neon lit streets of Bangkok and the backrooms of the city. Honestly, this is reddest film you will ever see, half the budget must have gone on red bulbs. Cliff Martinez' ambient score also bought a lot to the mood, with an almost fairy tale and unsettling soundtrack.
The biggest problem is I feel the film thinks it is more deep than it actual is. If you've ever seen an interview with Nicolas Winding Refn, you see he is one of the most pretentious pricks ever to grace this Earth and his filmmaking here shows. He likes to add weird imagery that seem to have some "deep" and hidden meaning, but it's all just actually really simple, just strangely told.
Only God Forgives is what it is. Certainly not for everyone, but if you take it for what it is, an abstract mood piece with a simple story and gorgeous visuals, it's just a bit full of itself.
Only God Forgives is out now on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK
Watch the trailer below:
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