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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Ryan Gosling
Kristin Scott Thomas
Vithaya Pansringarm.
Directors
Nicolas Winding Refn.
Screenwriters
Nicolas Winding Refn.
Running Time
90 minutes

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Only God Forgives
Bangkok Languorous


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Plot
US ex-pat Julian Thompson (Gosling) runs a Bangkok boxing club as a front for his family’s drug business. When his brother Billy (Burke) is killed to avenge the murder of a prostitute, Julian must deal not only with the arrival of his mother Crystal (Scott Thomas), but also a police chief (Pansringarm) who has supernatural abilities...


Review
Only God Forgives
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"Drive," director Nicolas Winding Refn told the LA Film Festival recently, “was like getting the best cocaine and doing it all night long. But Only God Forgives is like doing acid. Not the kind where you sit in a chair and see things — the kind of good acid where you become the chair.”

Quite a lot of people left their chairs when the film made its debut in Cannes in May, decrying Winding Refn’s baby as vapid, pretentious and, most damning of all, meaningless. But for those who swallowed the tab whole, the Danish director’s ninth feature was one of the best films of the festival: a hallucinatory study of guilt and a punishing vision of one man’s private purgatory.

The film is dedicated to Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Winding Refn clearly delves into the surrealist master’s treasure trove of themes. Though it takes the trappings of a gangster film, this is the violent, psychedelic study of a petty criminal trapped in hell, bent on picking a fight with his creator.

The surest way to differentiate Only God Forgives from its predecessor is to say Drive was a Ryan Gosling movie directed by Winding Refn, and this time the tables have turned: Gosling is making a guest appearance in a Winding Refn movie. These can be bloody, arty, baffling affairs, but most of all they deal with issues of conscience— and it’s worth noting that his key films (Pusher, Bronson and Drive) deal with masculinity, whether in crisis or not.
They also feature near-silent antiheroes, and here that role is played not by Gosling but the extraordinary Vithaya Pansringarm as the nameless Angel Of Vengeance, a supernatural cop who inexplicably pulls a bushido sword from his shoulder blades, dispensing swift and painful justice. The backbone of the film, the Angel is summoned from Julian’s warped subconscious as he deals with the fallout from his dysfunctional and psychopathic family. How much is real is never made clear; instead, the film plays out as a warped, lysergic High Noon as the hunted and the h(a)unted square up for the final confrontation.

If Gosling is the biggest draw, Only God Forgives may not be for you: Winding Refn’s style is mannered and often agonisingly slow, with awkward silences and long stares into the inky blackness. Courtesy of cinematographer Larry Smith, who makes the neon sleaze of Bangkok both dangerous and beautiful, everything is bathed in disorientating primary colours, while the violence reaches a very, very nasty apogee with an extended torture scene that dwarfs anything in the ‘controversial’ Gangster Squad.

There is also the matter of Kristin Scott Thomas — Fiona from Four Weddings all decked out like a Malibu-trash gangster’s moll. One might expect the kind of showy set-piece in which a name actor plays coarsely against type, but Scott Thomas’ Crystal is not that kind of role. Crystal, with the exception of her first and final scenes, is an apparition that visits Julian to remind him of all the perverted facets of their bizarre relationship, by turns seducing him, humiliating him and, finally, ready to destroy him.

If you’re prepared to settle into the film’s unorthodox rhythms, you’ll be rewarded by Cliff Martinez’s superb score, which perfectly complements the film’s wild mélange of elements, acknowledging its Thai setting with eerie Eastern sounds that, by the end, feel like the spirits of Bangkok are getting ready to rise up and cleanse the world of Crystal and her immoral brood.

Repeat viewings only add to the texture, though there will never be that eureka moment second time around. Instead, Only God Forgives is about the way time stands still in the darkness, and nothing articulates this better than the scenes in which the Angel relaxes after a hard day’s vengeance, crooning melancholy Thai pop songs to an audience of unblinking cops.
 


Verdict
Experimental and uncompromising, Winding Refn and Gosling’s Drive follow-up is a tripped-out riff on the crime family movie in which The Grifters — literally — go to hell.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Only God Forgives
Empire Star Rating

RE: Wake up and smell the Red Bloody Lanerns

Wee bit too slow paced, wee bit too thin on plot, wee bit too nasty, wee bit too heavy-handed with the symbolism, wee bit too much karaoke. It looks very pretty though and some of the soundtrack musak is great, KST is suitably convincing and skanky as mother, but all in all it's not something that I'm thinking about watching again. (Drive instantly became one of my all time faves btw, but this comes nowhere near it) ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 10:53, 03 July 2014 | Report This Post


Wake up and smell the Red Bloody Lanerns

I rented this film on the basis of this review. I believe that the reviewer for Empire should return my spend of £3.50. This reviewer should simply be ashamed and Empire should be ashamed. Why don't we all produce whatever kind of crap we can as its evident from this reviewer that we should all suceed in stunning 5 star glory. Star rating is ZERO, can't submit this unless I rate it with at least 1 star, another blip! Like a disease its spreading... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FlipJack at 11:02, 21 February 2014 | Report This Post


RE: Only God Forgives

I went into OGF with deep trepidation due how it has polarised critics and the audience. I came out the other end marvelling at it's ridiculous audacity and mesmerised by its off kilter brilliance. Yes it appears slow and 80% of it involves grand master levels of staring at nothing in particular but it is never dull due to the superb, set design, lighting and cinematography. Yes it is completely OTT (the take off the dress scene made me convulse) but it's sets it's stall as far away from kitche... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Brother L at 20:36, 21 January 2014 | Report This Post


Only God Forgives

Damon Wise, finally one of few critics to understand this film. This is the most underrated film of 2013. This review is simply spot on. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 19:46, 06 January 2014 | Report This Post


RE: "Time to meet the devil."

Odd film, neither here nor there really. A bit trendy and surreal for the sake of it. ... More

Posted by Drone at 11:12, 28 December 2013 | Report This Post


"Time to meet the devil."

Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up to Drive - which is a far better film in my opinion - the much-criticized Only God Forgives is a lurid, violent, neon-drenched crime drama that plays like a cinematic nightmare with a pulse. Still, half the time it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 14:52, 20 December 2013 | Report This Post


RE: hmmmm

Bloody Nicolas Winding Refn. He got me. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that despite my best efforts to remain impartial to the lurid provocation of his latest offering Only God Forgives, during one particular scene I eventually caved and found myself saying “Oh come on that’s a bit unnecessary”. No doubt the Danish controversy-monger would be pleased with this response as he’s all about prompting reaction. In a recent interview he stated “If everybody agrees, then how deep has it gone?” when d... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Biggus at 22:45, 15 December 2013 | Report This Post


hmmmm

Tough one to rate. I quite liked it. The singing reminded me of love honor and obey a bit, I liked that too. While this was visually very good and very atmospheric I found it a bit vague and slow at times but felt satisfied by the end. Not sure if I totally understood it but an enjoyable ride. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gram Woods at 23:49, 10 December 2013 | Report This Post


Movie Marmite (I Like Marmite)

To start; I think this film is very different from 'Drive'. I almost feel like this is 'Drive's predecessor, rather than successor, as 'Drive' feels a lot more developed - a strong script and a clear vision, giving it a very clean and polished off look - usually a trait that is acquired a few films down the line for any Director. However, Director Nicolas Winding Refn strips all of this down on his newly discovered auteur style and creates the cinematic marmite 'Only God Forgives'. This fi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 16:01, 05 December 2013 | Report This Post


I think Drive is a masterpiece. I have just watched Only God Forgives on Us Netfix. Its awful. None of it works on any level. Gosling who I rate highly and I think is moving towards one of the great screen presence finds his limitations here. So glad I didn't pay to go see this on the cinema. I would advoid. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jezy at 19:13, 23 November 2013 | Report This Post


Have a read...

i wrote my own review, please have a read.. Edit - Empire prohibits advertising your own site/blog in posts and directing users off-site. If you'd like, you could add your site in your sig - but please don't reference in posts ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by teddyloxley at 17:05, 10 October 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Absolute waste

L: Suren This movie is an absolute waste of time and money. No real story just gory scenes of violence. his comment proved my point that this film will give you what you are willing to bring to it. If you're not the type of person to look beneath the surface this is the type of criticism I expect. Not a knock on anyone, but that's just the way it is. Not having a straight forward narrative on the surface doesn't mean there isn't a story, something like Inland Empire comes to mind here, ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 22:46, 20 September 2013 | Report This Post


Only God Forgives a story this incoherent.

This is an arthouse film, playing in a multiplex; and there's no judgement there, that's just the way it is. Visually arresting, thematically stunning, narratively bewildering. Refn persists in his attempt to turn me into a reverse film snob, but while his films look this beautiful I can't give up on him just yet. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 01:50, 15 September 2013 | Report This Post


Absolute waste

This movie is an absolute waste of time and money. No real story just gory scenes of violence. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Suren at 20:19, 08 September 2013 | Report This Post


amazing

Seen it a couple of times now and the effects only intensify with repeat viewings, it is now genuinely one of my favourite films, i dont think you necessarily enjoy the film but the pleasure comes from experiencing it, Refn is fearless in his direction and im glad this is where he went post-Drive because in form like this no one can touch Refn. I understand completely if people hate it because it will be for the reasons that all the other people love it, but the fact that you hate means, in part... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jordieb at 05:09, 22 August 2013 | Report This Post


amazing

Seen it a couple of times now and the effects only intensify with repeat viewings, it is now genuinely one of my favourite films, i dont think you necessarily enjoy the film but the pleasure comes from experiencing it, Refn is fearless in his direction and im glad this is where he went post-Drive because in form like this no one can touch Refn. I understand completely if people hate it because it will be for the reasons that all the other people love it, but the fact that you hate means, in part... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jordieb at 05:04, 22 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Only God Forgives

Really wanted to like this film, but I couldn't. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, the colours, the dark rooms highlighting only eyes and the camerawork, all fantastic. Unfortunately there is not enough substance to the movie. Refn's story could have been told in 15 minutes, it's simple enough really. Having said this, I can see how people can commit to the style over substance, but there was only so much slow walking with no goal I could take. Visually amazing, otherwis... More

Posted by djc16 at 19:15, 21 August 2013 | Report This Post


Astonishing

I certainly can see why so many people would hate this movie especially if Drive was your only experience of Winding Refn's work but personally I thought this was an astonishing piece of cinema and an experience that will stay with me for many many years to come. Much more accessible than Valhalla Rising (yet aesthetically similar), this is the work of a master craftsman at the peak of his powers. Shot beautifully and with a score that builds unbelievable tension this is a film that treats the ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ChudMonkey at 11:11, 21 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

Using my first post on these forums to say that I loved this film. I found it to be genuinely frightening and beautiful at the same time. It also has one of my favourite scores of the year so far. To repeat some other people who liked the film, there are definitely elements underneath the surface of this film that I found to be really interesting. The visual metaphors and the dialogue say a lot more than they appear to at face value. Don't know if this will make my top films of the year, but I'... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by markmcclenaghan at 23:16, 18 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

I have no idea what rating I'd give this film, I'm just glad Nicolas Winding Refn is out there making movies. These kinds of films are far more interesting than 90% of the crap that's out there. This is a good video analysis to help shine light on the movie: (contains spoilers) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOPZURubLyU ... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 19:19, 11 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

One of the greatest experience I have ever had in the cinema. Astounding. ... More

Posted by thedrin at 12:41, 11 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

The following is a review and thoughts that contain spoilers and stuff... This film has been my most anticipated for, honestly, about a year. My expectations had changed multiple times before seeing it, since early reports hinted at it being like a sequel to Drive, then later reviews stating that it was actually nothing like it. When I heard that this was going to be more akin to Refns earlier work like Fear X and Valhalla Rising, I was actually pleasantly surprised. As much as I loved Dri... More

Posted by Coyleone at 12:00, 11 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

L: TrendMeUp What's great about when a film like Only God Forgives comes out is some of the hilarious responses by people that hated it. My favourite is the one where people deny the fact that film is a subjective medium, and that any opinion on it is as valid as any other. All of the people going manic about Damon Wise's review: at least he went to the trouble to say why he enjoyed the film. Most of you are coming off as ignorant. The film is almost beyond description. It's beautifu... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 14:18, 08 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

L: TrendMeUp but I wish people would take 2 minutes to justify their opinions before they slate a reviewer/publication. orget it, Trend; It's Film Reviews Forum. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 10:35, 08 August 2013 | Report This Post


RE: You Are All Wrong

What's great about when a film like Only God Forgives comes out is some of the hilarious responses by people that hated it. My favourite is the one where people deny the fact that film is a subjective medium, and that any opinion on it is as valid as any other. All of the people going manic about Damon Wise's review: at least he went to the trouble to say why he enjoyed the film. Most of you are coming off as ignorant. The film is almost beyond description. It's beautiful and mesmerising a... More

Posted by TrendMeUp at 22:46, 07 August 2013 | Report This Post


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