Ryan Gosling mysterious muscle orange room light Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

Makes Drive look like a chick flick

filmOA | out soon

Only God Forgives

Refn and Gosling talk


There’s no question Drive (2011) opened a lot of doors for director Nicolas Winding Refn. It landed him a job to direct Blake Lively in a Gucci commercial in 2012, which must have made life a bit easier (money-wise). But as successful as Drive was, he still went ahead with making the violent non-Hollywood film Only God Forgives. A film that might look as commercially attractive as Drive from the outside. But as anyone who has seen it knows, it totally isn’t.

Where in Drive there was a clear storyline with a heist, a romance and some money, in Only God Forgives there’s very little of that. If you had any expectations based on his previous work, forget it. It's clear Refn challenged himself to do something different, or the opposite even. What we get is a more poetic film that features surreal and sometimes even bizarre scenes. Which is refreshing, in a year stuffed with blockbusters, where even the simplest storyline is explained in detail. But it’s certainly not for everyone.

Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an American drug dealer who runs a boxing club with his brother in Bangkok. When his brother gets into (big) trouble, his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) flies over from the US to see what’s going on. She orders Julian to get revenge for his brother. But when he refuses, she handles it herself. That’s when lieutenant Chang (also known as the Angel of Death) starts to come after Julian.

I explain the setup — because that’s what we do — but the story is actually not that important. What’s most interesting about Only God Forgives is the whole atmosphere. The combination of spectacular and often mysterious visuals, combined with another great (although not as commercial) soundtrack. Even the cast isn’t that important. They do a decent enough job. But it’s more about this world and the scenes they’re put in. And while the location Bangkok creates an unusual Asian vibe, the combination of violence, little dialog and poetic scenes sometimes makes it seem more like an Asian film than something created by a Western director.

After watching dozens of Hollywood films this year, Only God Forgives was a breath of fresh air. While it isn't as overall satisfying as his previous film, I found myself utterly enjoying most of these scenes that explain so very little. It might not be perfect. And sometimes you question whether the scenes are just weird to be weird. The violence is sometimes extreme — so beware if you’re not into that. But in the end, there’s finally someone close to Hollywood exploring new territory. Not rehashing the same story over and over with different casts. It's something fewer and fewer directors do (or get to do) it seems. And I’m really excited to see what direction Nicolas Winding Refn goes into next. filmOA end logo

Only God Forgives is out now (US). + more dates

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review score 74 half circle


worth the popcorn

Vithaya Pansringarm and Ryan Gosling hit smash face Only God Forgives Kristin Scott Thomas sunglasses mother blond barbie Only God Forgives Ryan Gosling blood face red boxing ball Only God Forgives
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