Only God Forgives Review
By Rich Cline
Audiences expecting Drive 2 from this reteaming of Gosling and Winding Refn will be disappointed: this is a stylishly original movie that refuses to play by the rules. It's a very dark revenge thriller that unfolds like a surreal, blood-soaked dream as it spirals toward an ending that can't possibly be happy. And even though it's difficult to identify with anyone on-screen, the film is emotionally riveting.
Winding Refn sets the story in Bangkok, with Gosling starring as Julian, a passive guy who's working for his older drug-dealing brother Billy (Burke). But when Billy kills a teen prostitute in a drugged stupor, a nasty cycle of revenge begins. Detective Chang (Pansringarm) allows the victim's father (Wattanakul) to avenge her death, which comes at a price. So as Julian seeks his own vengeance, he understands that Chang is the real villain here. Then Julian's mother Crystal (Scott Thomas) turns up, refusing to listen to reason as she storms into the situation and makes everything much, much worse.
Using an Eastern sense of karma, Winding Refn throws Julian, Crystal and Chang into a torturous deathmatch. Events unfold with very little dialog, which emphasises the lurid colours and densely shadowed settings. Expertly shot and edited, the film is awash in ambiguity, making it feel like a David Lynch movie in which much of what we're watching is an absurd nightmare. And even as the morality gets increasingly murky, the film never preaches to us. It's challenging, provocative and extremely unsettling.
Without many words, the actors are able to draw us into their characters. Gosling helps us see that Julian's compassion might be his undoing. Or maybe his salvation. Pansringarm makes Chang into an eerily inexpressive nemesis with a streak of fatherly concern and a love of karaoke. But it's Scott Thomas who walks off with the whole film, delivering a performance we never see coming: fierce, trashy and freakishly moving. It's this twisted mother-son relationship that continually surprises us. And haunts us long after the film's unexpected closing scenes.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 22nd May 2013
Box Office Worldwide: $9.7M
Distributed by: Radius-TWC
Production compaines: Wild Bunch, A Grand Elephant, Bold Films, Film i Väst, Gaumont
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 59 Rotten: 90
Cast & Crew
Producer: Lene Borglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval
Starring: Ryan Gosling as Julian, Kristin Scott Thomas as Jenna, Gordon Brown as Gordon, Tom Burke as Billy, Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang, Byron Gibson as Byron, Sahajak Boonthanakit as Pol Col. KIM, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam as Mai, Charlie Ruedpokanon as Daeng, Wannisa Peungpa as Kanita, Narucha Chaimareung as Papa San