There is no confusing a Nicholas Winding Refn film with that of any other director. Only God Forgives
takes all his trademarks—the violence, the synth score, the stoicism, the colors, the Ryan Gosling—and boils them down to a potent bouillon cube of a film, and the result is at once a visceral, purely cinematic experience and a numbing exercise in existential filmmaking. Gosling plays Julian, an American expat in Thailand who runs a boxing club as a front for his Jersey-trash gangster mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). When Julian’s older brother is killed after committing a particularly heinous crime, Thomas demands not only that the murderer be slain, but also the police who allowed the retribution. This sets her up against Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an unassuming, karaoke-loving, sweater vest-wearing police lieutenant, which then sets the stage for a pretty standard revenge thriller. Refn, though, isn’t interested in simplicity—or coherence, for that matter. But damned if it isn’t gorgeous to look at. Eyes Wide Shut
cinematographer Larry Smith bathes the set in crimson, allowing the camera to slowly track down glowing hallways draped in gaudy floral wallpaper, posing each character with an almost obsessive attention to symmetry. The violence is stark yet gorgeously choreographed. There are moments of pure, chaotic force, most of them perpetrated by Pansringarm, who lends an otherworldly sense of menace to the proceedings while hardly speaking a word, and by Thomas, whose mob maven is a boiling pot of rage and domineering oedipal complexity. Yet, despite its dreamlike nature and frequent jolts, Only God Forgives
rings hollow. Gosling, who proved in Drive
that he can work miracles with minimal lines, is nothing but a statue posed in various vignettes here. The style’s amazing. The substance, though, may cause drowsiness.