Jul 19 2013

ReThink Reviews: Only God Forgives

Rethink ReviewsTaking a deeper look at current and past films and how they relate to the world today.

Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.

Read his reviews online at ReThinkReviews.net. Watch his videos at www.youtube.com/user/jsjkim, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ReThinkReviews. ReThink Reviews’ theme song is by Restavrant.


In 2011, Nicolas Winding Refn’s film ‘Drive’ was released, a so-called arthouse action movie that struck a chord with critics (earning a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), as well as audiences, creating a buzz that finally launched Ryan Gosling’s simmering career into superstardom. It seemed like nearly everyone was psyched about ‘Drive’ — that is, except for a few people like me. Other than ‘Drive’’s opening scene, which really might be one of the greatest and smartest car chases of all time, and the film’s cool 80s-synth-inspired soundtrack, I had major problems with ‘Drive’, problems which have persisted into Refn’s latest film with Gosling, ‘Only God Forgives’. But by the looks of things, it seems like more people may be starting to notice them.

Gosling plays Julian, another nearly silent, largely unemotive small-time crook on the edge of the criminal underworld, much like Gosling’s nameless character in ‘Drive’. Julian and his brother Billy (played by Tom Burke) run a kickboxing gym in Bangkok that’s a front to move drugs. However, Billy is a horrible, violent scumbag who gets beaten to death by the father of a teenage prostitute whom he raped and murdered.

Julian and Billy’s estranged mother Crystal (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok to bring Billy’s body back to the States. But it’s soon obvious where Billy got his awfulness from, since Crystal is perhaps the most hate-filled, cartoonishly evil mom in film history, swearing constantly, making sexual insinuations towards her son, and insulting everyone else in the most vulgar ways possible. She implores Julian to kill Billy’s murderer, but Julian refuses when he learns that the real man responsible for Billy’s death is Lieutenant Chang, a mysterious policeman (played by Vithaya Pansringam) with an obsession for justice who handles matters with a samurai sword. Crystal’s attempts to go around Julian to get to Chang begin a chain reaction of increasingly gory violence.

The similarities between ‘Drive’ and ‘Only God Forgives’ start with their maddeningly slow pace, which feel like incredibly lazy attempts to pad a 30-page script into a feature-length film. But instead of writing additional scenes, Refn just decided to have characters walk, talk, and turn REALLY slowly, stare at each other way too long, and wait at least five seconds for no reason before delivering any piece of dialogue. When people do speak, it’s so slow, stilted, and artificial that there’s hardly a single sentence of realistic dialogue in the entire film. And in the case of Crystal, her lines are so offensive that Thomas said that she could barely bring herself to say them. But they’re hardly clever, like the work of a seventh grader who thinks being “edgy” means spewing every nasty phrase he can think of, even if doing so makes no sense storywise.

And speaking of nasty, both films display Refn’s affection for sudden, graphic violence, with dozens of scenes full of severed limbs, gushing blood, bullet-riddled bodies, and skewered flesh. But instead of feeling gritty, harsh, and realistic, as it sometimes did in ‘Drive’, in ‘Only God Forgives’ it mostly feels like a cheap attempt to goose the film’s otherwise glacial pace. And in a world where we’re all too exposed to the heartbreaking results of real-life violence, the cruelty in ‘Only God Forgives’ is hardly worth putting yourself through if it’s only function is to keep the audience awake. The result is a movie that feels like it was made by a fan of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and splatter films who was then dosed with heavy sedatives.

The saturated color palette, the slow camera moves, the stone-faced, silent hero bursting into sudden and uncharacteristic aggression — we’ve seen all this before. But what critics supposedly loved, or at least tolerated, in ‘Drive’ they’re now howling about in ‘Only God Forgives’. While this film is truly an unpleasant ordeal that feels way longer than its 90 minutes, I’d like to challenge fans of ‘Drive’ to see ‘Only God Forgives’, then explain why ‘Drive’ is such a superior film despite sharing so much of the same DNA. But as much as I’d like to prove that ‘Drive’ is overrated, anyone who decides not to see ‘Only God Forgives’ has my full support.

‘Only God Forgives’ is rated R and opens today.

One response so far

One Response to “ReThink Reviews: Only God Forgives”

  1. landscape ideason 19 Oct 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I haven¡¦t checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I¡¦ll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend :)