Only God Forgives

5 Overall Score
Visuals: 9/10
Story: 3/10
Appeal: 3/10

Stunning visuals and graphic violence make the film intense and captivating.

A thin plot and a confusing story combine to make an aimless, meaningless thrill ride.

Just like I figured, Only God Forgives is a polarizing film.

There are many great elements about it, and most of them come in the visual department. Director Nicolas Winding Refn makes movies that are captivating to the senses, and his follow-up to 2011’s masterpiece Drive is no exception. Forgives is an atmospheric adventure from start to finish, with a high focus on colorful violence and slow, mesmerizing character actions. If you thought Drive was gritty and brutal, then you may be surprised by the carnage of its successor; this film uses high-voltage visuals, an ambient-filled soundtrack and over-the-top carnage to tell its story – and that’s one of revenge.

Only God Forgives - Promo 1But the story is told in an odd manner. There was talk that Forgives had a small amount of dialogue, and that the film would use its artsy, often intense images to move the plot along. Only one of these is correct; there is much dialogue, and most of it doesn’t help explain events or occurrences. Instead, it’s a tangled web of death and vengeance. Basically, Julian (Ryan Gosling), who is the owner of a boxing club in Thailand, is seeking revenge for the death of his brother (Tom Burke). He eventually finds out that the death was motivated by the Angel of Death (Vithaya Pansringarm), a Thai man who believes himself to be “God.” Then the film falls into a wild deathmatch between all of the characters. One person extracts revenge on one person for a murder, another person seeks revenge on the hired assassin for that death, and so on.

This is an approach that should make for a nail-biting thriller, but Forgives ends up being anything but that. Instead, the inclusion of characters like Julian’s mom (Kristin Scott Thomas), who creates an imbalance of austerity with her light mouth, and random sexual deliberations make the film a strange one. Yet, it’s one that’s also missing substantiality. Because of the lack of exposition and explanation, Forgives feels oh-so-subtle, and even more so, a mess. Julian’s character ends up being less modelic than the mysterious Driver, and his character is far too weak to play a hero. In fact, he’s not even a hero, and that’s what may leave viewers feeling so disenchanted by the end.

Only God Forgives - Promo 2Refn is definitely a risk-taker when it comes to filmmaking, and that’s why his catalogue is such a love-hate affair. Forgives follows along just like his previous works. Some may love it. Some may hate it. Some may fall right in the middle, loving some things but hating others. While I can’t necessarily hate a movie for being such a dazzling thrill ride, it’s tough to enjoy one when weak story elements, characters and plot events lead to such an underwhelming finale. It’s so hard to follow Forgives along because it’s just so contrived. Refn went with a specific approach, trying to top the immaculate appeal of Drive. He should’ve tried to develop his ideas organically to give flow and feeling to the film, and instead, his overzealous visual onslaught of color and violence makes it feel not just superficial – but also very pretentious.

I applaud arthouse films like Drive – films that are overflowing with emotion, enticement and ecstasy. What made that flick such an astounding one was its precision. Everything fit, from the music to the characters to the unfolding array of plot events. Unfortunately, the follow-up to 2011’s edge-of-your-seat, action-filled arthouse shocker is a movie that lacks the same commercial immensity. It feels artsy, and perhaps more artsy than it should’ve been. Sure, it’s intense, and sure, it’s surreal, but in the end, Only God Forgives is not timeless, and for some, it may not even be worth a second watch.

As a fan of Refn and a fan of Gosling, I can’t really come to terms with worthlessness. I may just have to give it another chance, although that chance isn’t coming anytime soon. For now, Drive and the recent party-themed thriller Spring Breakers will continue to be my go-to movies when in need of an artsy, surreal film experience.

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Author: Tim Dodderidge View all posts by
I'm a student at the University of Kansas hoping to major in journalism. I love Christopher Nolan films, eating at Taco Bell, and playing indoor soccer. I also like to watch How I Met Your Mother and enjoy writing poetry.

1,020 Comments on "Only God Forgives"

  1. Claudia Marina August 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Great review. I was debating whether watching this movie. I loved Drive while most of the people I know hated it or found it sub-par. I think I’ll just leave this one ’til it comes out on Netflix. Have you seen Holy Rollers? Not in the same realm as Drive/Spring Breakers, but definitely worth a watch for a surreal film experience.

  2. Claudia Marina August 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    My bad, Holy Motors (no Holy Rollers)

  3. Tim Dodderidge August 22, 2013 at 2:45 am - Reply

    I haven’t seen Holy Motors yet. That sounds intriguing! I love movies that have an atmospheric/surreal vibe. I’ll be sure to see it soon.

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