Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013)

Following the success of the fantastic Drive, the next project of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn got really hyped-up because everyone expected this to be Drive 2. Even though it has some similarities like the nearly silent main character, the dreamlike cinematography or the eerie score, Only God Forgives feels different than Drive. So for fans of the movie, don’t expect Drive 2.

For those who don’t know, Only God Forgives is a revenge tale set in Bangkok. Following the brutal death of his rapist and murderer brother, Billy, Julian (Ryan Gosling) must take revenge against the man who took away his brother’s life. The combination of Refn’s style and the idea of the movie is what made me want to see it as soon as possible. I imagined it would be a artsy, neo-noir, pulpy and violent tale about revenge and justice. It got pretty close to what I was expecting.

Let’s return to the story. Billy is brutally murdered after killing an underage prostitute. His death marks the return of their drug lord mother, Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. She is heartbroken by the death of her favorite son and orders Julian to kill the one who did it. However, Julian considers that Billy deserved what he got and doesn’t go through with killing the murderer.
It is soon found out that the one responsible for all this is a cop, Chang, this Angel of Death, who makes justice, the hard way, in all Bangkok. After an attempt at killing him by some men paid by Crystal, Julian, who I forgot to tell is the owner of a boxing club, challenges Chang to a fight. This fight is pretty epic, with a fantastic, eerie score in the background. From now on, things go downhill.
Another side of the story is the relationship between Julian and his mother. Julian has serious mommy issues as he always seeking his mother’s affection. She dominates him even at this age. She destroyed him. He hates her as much as he loves her. This reflects on his relationship with women. He even pays a prostitute to be his pretend girlfriend for a dinner with his mother. He has sexual desires for women but never really goes through with it. One symbolic scene for this relationship is at the end, when Julian does something really weird with his mother’s womb.

You have to be in good state of mind to watch this movie. It starts slowly, there isn’t much talking at the beginning and many might turn it off til the story truly begins.
The acting is really great. Ryan Gosling is great. Besides the whole boxing, which deserved some practice, the role isn’t very complicated, he’s a man with serious mommy issues, but very different from his evil mother and brother. Crystal even says how different he is from the both of them. Don’t know if she meant it as a good thing or not, but all I know is that Julian isn’t genuinely bad. He didn’t get the evil gene, thankfully. He loves his mother and respects her despite all the horrible stuff she says to him.
Crystal, played by the great Kristin Scott Thomas is a vile woman. The actress clearly had fun playing her after all the classy roles she had all of her career. Crystal is the mafia godmother, she enlisted both of her sons to take care of the business while she stays in the US. She is a horrible mother, really crappy human being. She destroyed both of her sons. She turned Billy into a deranged man and Julian into a angry and violent one. In the dinner scene she compares her two sons’ penises, calling Billy’s enormous and Julian’s never small. Guess who is mommy’s favorite boy? She is a really fake woman. In a moment of weakness she tries to bond with Julian and the next she talks about how crazy he is. I think her kitsch style and her fake blond hair is really representative of her horrible persona. Much like Barbara Stanwyck and her fake wig in Double Indemnity.

Chang is a the one that brings justice in the city. He is a respected cop as seen in the relationship with his colleagues. He gets his job done rather well for a cop. He cleans this really dirty city of all the gangsters and killers and cokeheads. He is like the Angel of Death. He punishes everyone fairly. He punishes the father of the prostitute killed by Billy for allowing her to be one in the first place. He is very skilled and never gets hit. He has a little daughter whom he protects from all the cruelty that fills Bangkok. I appreciate his sense of justice. Don’t know if this is really how police work is done in Bangkok, but if it is so, then good for them.
What I really liked in Only God Forgives and it’s impossible for one to hate is the cinematography. It is absolutely gorgeous. It’s the best looking film of the year. In a fair world, it would win the Best Cinematography award but that one is probably going to Gravity. I love neon lights shots. Love how they are used and it gives this image of a really dark world. The Bangkok in Only God Forgives is like a nightmare world, as I’ve read in a review, “a world of sick pups”.
The score is really great. It’s made by Cliff Martinez, who worked on Drive too. Liked the combination of oriental sounds and electronic music. It was blissful. Now the combination of visuals and music is very dreamlike. I really like that.

Unfortunately, the film got really bad reviews, don’t know why. I usually agree with the critics but they really got it wrong this time. Anyway, this has cult film written all over it.
I’m sure many people won’t like the amount of violence in this film, you either love it or hate it. Also the sky high expectations of almost everyone will probably ruin the film for them. As I said before, don’t expect Drive 2.
I wasn’t starstruck by it, but I enjoyed it a lot and it will definitely grow on me.

B

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