Well that was a thing that I watched with my eyeballs.
From what I can gather: an American man running a martial arts ring in Thailand is forced by his psychotic mother to seek revenge on the kill-crazy police officer that had his older brother killed.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn also made the incredible Drive, also with Ryan Gosling, a film that made my top five that year. Although I did have to do some soul searching to conclude Drive was a five star experience. Only God Forgives had intense notoriety with both critics and the general audience as being plain bad.
One thing Refn did well with Drive, is invoke an incredible sense of atmosphere and create a compelling story without directly telling the audience through the script, but rather through actors emotions and actions. His follow-up creation… I think goes too far down that experimental path.
Only God Forgives is a quiet… mystifying and dreamlike experience. It is frankly unforgiving to its audience; if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss something crucial to the development of the characters. Very, very little is spoken. While Ryan Gosling’s early films generally had little in the way of script, this film gives him just seventeen lines. If it weren’t for Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother, there would barely be thirty English lines in total! The rest are in Thai. Not subtitled.
This is an acquired taste. If you are here to see Ryan Gosling, don’t bother. If you are here to be entertained, don’t bother. If you are here to be compelled by story and plot, don’t bother.
The film’s strengths lie in its atmosphere, its moody lighting, and its horrific violence that spring out of nowhere. Gosling takes a backseat to Vithaya Pansringarm as the police officer Chang, who literally goes through this film murdering people with a sword. He has terrifying presence. He also sings.
Kristin Scott Thomas (Gosford Park, The English Patient) is in a transformative role here! She plays a malicious, calculating and sinister woman hellbent on revenge. These two actors are easily the best element of this entire experience.
There’s really not much else to say. This is not a popcorn movie. I cannot say I especially liked or enjoyed it; I barely grasped what was happening between the zero dialogue and the rest of the dialogue in Thai. As well as the chopped up cinematography and slow pace that both forces you to pay attention yet lulls you into a doze.
I can fully understand the general audience backlash; if you aren’t interested in slow, atmospheric independent movies you should avoid this. As something for film students and film critics, I would say there are aspects worth exploring. Personally, I will probably forget most of it by tomorrow.