Monday, July 22, 2013

Film Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives (Review)
France/Denmark/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"It's a film that you'll either hate or love, and I tend to be leaning towards love..."

Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his brother, Billy, run a boxing club in Bangkok, Thailand. One night, Billy kills an underage prostitute and surrenders to Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm); Chang allows the deceased girl's father to brutally murder Billy before cutting off his arm for being partly responsible. Julian's mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), eventually arrives to identify the body and demands vengeance...

Only God Forgives is a brutal arthouse revenge thriller. When Crystal arrives, all hell breaks loose between both parties - the police and Crystal's crime family; murder occurring on both sides, as Crystal orchestrates hits and Chang demonstrates why he's known as the "Angel of Vengeance." Julian stays quiet throughout most encounters, usually in deep contemplation or in moments of introspection as the world around him quickly dissolves. Blending reality with surreal visions, Julian also faces a deep rooted dilemma stemming from his unhealthy relationship with his mother. The film ending is open for interpretation, although we can safely assume the worse.

Occasionally, I felt as if Only God Forgives placed style over substance. The atmosphere is developed perfectly creating an immersive and effective experience through its intense slow pace and beautiful cinematography. However, the characters aren't fully and clearly developed leaving many assumptions; for example, Julian is a man of very few words, so we can only assume what he's thinking with his contemplative stares. Those looking for a story that will feed you the essentials will be disappointed, Only God Forgives allows you to interpret the characters yourself; and, if you don't, the character will end up bland and one-sided. The story is interesting and entertaining, although it often feels inconsistent; it feels like the story is missing essential links or bridges between scenes.

Remember, Only God Forgives is an arthouse revenge thriller. It moves at a slow pace, yet it managed to keep me hooked. There are several scenes that take time to capture the beauty of every shot - the setting, the character, the emotion; some of these shots are overdone and end up inflating the short runtime. There are several tense action sequences; from dialogue-based encounters to vicious fistfights, and even a slick shootout. There is tons of violence, some that will serve as a wake-up call for those not accustomed to slow-paced films; the violence can be overwhelming, including it's shootout and a vicious interrogation. It's not an action blockbuster, but I'd say it's a slow-burning thriller.

Ryan Gosling captures his character well; his performance is very calm and introspective capturing a character that is hard to identify, but interesting to analyze. Vithaya Pansringarm, similar to Gosling, plays a man of few words; his screen presence is intimidating, capturing a, for lack of a better word, badass character. Kristin Scott Thomas superbly captures her despicable character; with a range of emotions to manipulate and deceive, Scott Thomas feels genuinely twofaced. The film is captured beautifully with its magnificent cinematography; capturing its incredible style, effective lighting, and vibrant colors to create a beautiful, almost surreal experience. The music is equally impressive, a perfect soundtrack. Nicolas Winding Refn delivers with great direction, but inconsistent writing; the writing doesn't strive to be much more than it has to be.

Overall, Only God Forgives is a great crime thriller. The story is entertaining, the performances are great, the cinematography is magnificent, and the music is superb. It's a film that you'll either hate or love, and I tend to be leaning towards love; I think it's a film that will get better with multiple viewings. I strongly recommend for fans of the genre, a rental for those not familiar with this style.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, brief nudity.

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