I’ve honestly got no fucking clue why the reviews for this movie have been so seemingly across-the-board shitty. Is director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling’s follow-up to Drive, Only God Forgives, as awesome as Drive? I don’t think so. But is it a fucking EPIC DISASTER? Jesus no. Only God Forgives is actually pretty fucking rad and I haven’t the fucking foggiest why someone who liked Drive would not totally dig this flick.
It’s the story of Julian (Gosling), a Bangkok fight gym owner who is forced by his scary mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) to find and kill the man responsible for his brother’s death. That Julian thought his scumbag brother deserved what he got and that the guy behind the murder is the sword-wielding cop/avenging angel Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) makes this a difficult task for him indeed.
As he does in Drive, Gosling only speaks a handful of lines in Only God Forgives, though here the silence is less about his character being a stoic, mysterious hero than an impotent boy whose creepy mother speaks for him. The film is visually rich, with incredible Bangkok locations and lots of reds, blacks and golds framing the amazing physicality of our actors’ bodies and profiles of their stunningly watchable faces on screen. It’s slow paced but always engaging, filled with visceral violence and the story, though simple, is constantly upsetting the audience’s expectations. It also seems at the outset to be about Thai boxing only for there to end up being only one major fist fight, much like Drive only slightly being about car chases for a movie that’s about, you know, a getaway driver.
In other words, this shit is very similar to Drive.
So why the backlash? Was that sameness too much for critics? Are expectations simply too high after Drive has become something of a cult film? Is it because Only God Forgives is a violent nightmare while Drive was a violent fairy tale? Do people just like car chases and Albert Brooks’ ornate knives more than Thai boxing and Chang’s wicked-ass katana thing? The ending of Only God Forgives is just as pointedly anticlimactic as Drive if maybe a little more ambiguous but there’s not *too* much to piece apart here – everything’s up there on the screen to interpret fairly easily.
Let the Nerd know your theories, dear reader, or – if you hated it – tell me what was so offensive about the film. I can see being a little letdown (I guess) but this is still what I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite directors working today: a violent, visually and aurally arresting genre film that isn’t like anyone else’s take on said genre. What the fuck more do people want than that?