The focus of Nicholas Winding Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES is on a series of formal revenge rituals played out in a mostly nocturnal Bangkok. The use of long silences, eerie soundscapes, and formal framing create a tone that is somewhat Lynchian, at least superficially. Unfortunately, a roster of shallow characters, their personalities more hinted at than conveyed, fail to create any emotional resonance, and place the film on a ladder way below Lynch classics such as LOST HIGHWAY or MULHOLLAND DRIVE.
Ryan Gosling plays the brother of scummy cunt murdered for raping and killing a teenage girl. Conscious of the moral dilemma thoughts of revenge raise, he opts to not take any action initially. Events beyond his influence are triggered, however, when his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who struggles with no moral dilemma, arrives in town to do what a psychotic mother will do.
Tonally, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is more VALHALLA RISING than DRIVE. It boasts few narrative surprises, and takes on a sameness that sucks it dry. In a sense, the film operates in the dead zone of a man post-ejaculation. It lacks build.
Cliff Martinez, who scored DRIVE, delivers a hypnotic score that echoes the best cues from DRIVE, and embellishes with other cues that feel like extensions of Eric Serra's score for LEON (aka THE PROFESSIONAL). The photography, by BRONSON (and FEAR X) shooter Larry Smith, is luminous, often reminiscent of the grimy nighttime vistas of John Woo's BULLET IN THE HEAD (the scenes where the hopeless 'Frank' kills for a fix come to mind).
Ultimately, ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a series of violent tableaux that are loosely connected. A fight scene between Gosling and Pansringarm is extremely brutal, as are the numerous gougings and slashings by sword. At times, Refn chooses to show us dialog while denying us its precise content -- occasionally it works, but just as often it feels like a missed opportunity to enrich the character interplay. More a welcome experiment than a satisfying ninety minutes at the movies, the film's lack of contrast (all shade and no light) creates too much distance between its auteur and its audience.
By no means a dog, ONLY GOD FORGIVES still fails to make its elements gel Refn-style, while feeling too imitative of Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, and Tran Anh Hung (CYCLO) without the pay-off of those directors' best films.
A dedication card to Alejandro Jodorowsky caps proceedings, and a thank you to Gasper Noe is also offered.
Not often that a film like this opens at a cinema five minutes' walk from my place.
Nice to see this getting a decent theatrical release.