We open on Bangkok, an ex-pat American of obvious ill repute is in a brothel. He demands the resident pimp finds him a 14 year old girl. When the pimp refuses, the American smashes a bottle over the pimp’s head. Cut to, a badly beaten and dead young girl, obviously the victim of the American after his teenage girl request was denied. Cue the music, Yackety Sax. Coz this is gonna be a laugh riot !
OK, so maybe I made up that last part of my description of the opening few minutes of Only God Forgives. But after watching the movie, I felt so down and depressed, I had to lighten the mood, if only for my own sanity. A reunion of writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, with actor/dreamboat Ryan Gosling, this makes their previous collaboration, Drive, look like The Care Bears Movie.
After the death of the cranky American, his brother, Julian, played by Gosling, does some investigating and finds his killer, the father of the film’s original victim. Gosling and his brother are local drug runners and he assumes the murder was work related. When he discovers it was revenge over his brother’s terrible act, Gosling decides the grieving father was justified and doesn’t deserve to die. So now we know who the good guy is. But with the evil brother dead, who will we be the movie’s villain?
Soon, Gosling’s mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, arrives. And when meeting his girlfriend for the first time, she refers to her as a “cum dumpster”. Ding! Ding! Ding! I think we’ve found our villain. While Scott Thomas puts out a hit on her son’s killer, an ex-policeman named Lt. Chang (delightfully nicknamed the “The Angel of Vengeance”) is also trying to keep his streets clean, one sword stabbing at a time. As their paths cross more and more, the body count rises until it’s Julian Vs. his Mum, Vs. Angel of Vengeance Vs. random hit men Vs. anyone else unlucky enough to get in their way.
The story is super pulpy and exploitative, the violence is stylised and kinetic, but somehow, at the same time, the pacing of Only God Forgives is glacial. But in an interesting way that really works. It’s almost like Tarrentino wrote the screenplay, but Interiors era Woody Allen directed it. If you took every shot of someone staring blankly into the distance and cut it in half, the already short 90 minute running time would come down to less than half an hour. Which brings me to one thing I didn’t really like about this movie. There’s a very fine line between an emotionless stare looking like intense brooding and a blank stare looking like bored, or post lobotomy, obliviousness.
Only God Forgives is great… I think… I really don’t know… I do know I’m still thinking a lot about it, so that has to be a good thing… Right? At the very least, it looks amazing. It’s the kind of movie you could leave on with the volume down and be blown away by the visuals every few minutes. Or the kind of movie you’d see flickering on a cracked screen in the background of a serial killer’s lair.
One last side note, here’s a little tip for Winding Refn. If you’re film revolves around an intense badass, maybe don’t name the character “Julian”. It’s just too wet and floppy of a name. I can only think of a couple of names that would make him even less intimidating…. Tristan and Sebastian.