Judita DaSilva

Only God Forgives

3 September 2013


*SPOILER ALERT!!! – for those who haven’t seen the movie, this review contains spoilers)*


‘Only God Forgives’

– Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn.

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm.

*Judita’s Score:  7.5/10 *


– Nicolas Winding Refn teams up with Ryan Gosling again, after their collaboration on Drive (2011), for this crime thriller set in Bangkok.  Ryan Gosling plays Jimmy who, along with his brother Billy (Tom Burke), runs fights and smuggles drugs with the help of their mother Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Business appears to be thriving for them until Billy’s pathological appetites throw everything off course.  His actions set a series of events in motion that bring violent and fatal consequences to almost everyone associated.

Refn’s directing here creates a hybrid of his own unique kind of filmmaking and far-eastern flare.  He blends intense scenes with elaborately stylised settings, overlaid with a score that flips from the melodic to the electronic and emotionally jarring.  As he was so effective at doing in Drive and Bronson, Refn uses an economical and yet efficient form of visual storytelling once again.  There is minimal dialogue in many of the scenes, making room for the musical score to dominate and drive the plot, sometimes even taking the place of dialogue all together.

Ryan Gosling, it seems, has become Refn’s go to guy when his movies require an actor who can emote enough to captivate the audience without the need of Oscar pitching monologues.  Gosling doesn’t offer anything ground-breakingly different from what we saw in their last collaboration but he plays the role competently and does what is required of him.  Kristin Scott Thomas, on the other hand, plays the matriarch (Crystal) of a truly dysfunctional family triptych with notable dexterity.  She arrives in Bangkok hell bent on revenge against anyone involved with the demise of her eldest son Billy.  Armed with a personality that is something south of repulsive, this character marks a real and welcome departure for Thomas from the roles one has grown used to seeing her in.  To think this is the same woman who made Ralph Fiennes weep as he cradled her lifeless body amidst the sand dunes of The English Patient feels almost blasphemous!

English actor Tom Burke, probably better known on British TV screens than on Hollywood movie screens, plays the catalyst for all the tragedy that unfolds. Though he is on screen for a brief stretch of the movie, he makes a harrowing impact.  This shouldn’t have been too difficult when he found out he was to play a homicidal paedophile, but still one must give credit where credit is due.  Burke manages to strike a balance between understated and terrifying that leaves a lasting memory.

My favourite of them all has to be Chang, played by Vithaya Pansringarm.  Chang is the chief of police and a family man unlike any I have seen committed to celluloid before.   On first impressions he seems harmless enough.  As a police officer however, should he speak or, heaven forbid, act then that assumption goes straight out the window.  He is a blade wielding, badge holding, mercenary with a penchant for karaoke and Refn exploits this contradiction to dramatic effect.  There are scenes of Chang singing sweetly on stage cut with brutal scenes of him dishing out his special brand of sword flavoured justice.   These unnerving sequences play excellently into the creation of an environment that keeps the audience constantly ill at ease.
Bangkok as a city is a refreshingly different back drop.  The bird’s eye view shots of the skyline show a metropolis like any other.   However when we are taken in closer, its nature and its style has an urbanized cultural language that were not used to seeing in Hollywood.  This too keeps the audience on their toes and never too sure of what could happen next.

I must say I do like Refn’s style of directing.  He encourages the audience to be intelligent and do some of the work themselves, rather than indulge in the narrative hand holding that is so common in movies nowadays.  In this movie there is no guide explaining how the characters get from one scene to the next.  There is no clear linear progression in how the scenes are cut together.  We are shown what we need to see and nothing more.  What happens in between is up to the imagination, which everything else we’ve watched could only have stimulated.

It certainly isn’t for the weak stomached but if you don’t shy away from a truck load of extreme violence then I recommend you see this movie.