Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

  • Nicholas Winding Refn’s film is visually arresting. He uses shadows, light, reflection and depth as well any director, finding visuals to tell the story the script neglects. Almost Terrence Malick-like, Refn shows us what is happening to his characters with powerful imagery.
  • Similarly, I can’t remember the last time I have seen a picture that blocks actors as well as this one. Scenes of people in hallways and one of Gosling in a lobby communicate how the world is closing in on the characters, threatening to devour them.
  • The mostly subtle score is also quite good.
  • But that is all Refn does well here. Despite the artistry of the audio and visuals, the director fails to deliver interesting characters, which is where he goes wrong and Malick usually goes right.
  • As he produces nothing more than a complex revenge movie, Refn also fails to deliver a compelling plot. I could summarize Gravity in a single sentence, and I could do the same for Only God Forgives. The difference is that while the lite story doesn’t hurt Alphonso Cuaron’s outer space epic, it renders Only God Forgives purposeless, probably because Refn doesn’t make us care about the people whom we watch do terrible things in almost every scene.
  • In many ways, this is an experimental film that looks to capture a dream like quality, much like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. It accomplishes that, more or less, but it still isn’t good. Refn’s film is even more beautiful than Korine’s, and the audio isn’t half so irritating, but Only God Forgives is not much more interesting.
  • Final Grade: D-
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15 thoughts on “Only God Forgives

    • Having finally watched it, I now understand the polarization. On the one hand, it truly is masterfully shot. On the other, it is character and plot lite.

      So it probably depends on what any given viewer most hopes to get from a movie.

  1. It was a crazy movie, but it was what I expected going into it so I can’t say I was too bummed. However, I do hope that next time, Refn tell an actual, somewhat coherent story. Good review.

    • Agreed. It’s pretty much what I expected, too.

      I think Refn’s trying to do art house visuals the way Terrence Malick does, but he forgets that what makes Malick’s movies so memorable isn’t the visuals in isolation; it’s the way those images combine to create complicated plot lines and interesting characters.

      Even the up and down To the Wonder features more memorable people and story arcs than Only God Forgives, even though the latter might be more strikingly aesthetic.

      • Here, Refn seems to be channeling a lot of Lynch-territory, which can sometimes work wonders, but here, it just seems more like an imitation. An entertaining one, but something that could have been better with a tighter grip.

  2. Nice comparison to Gravity. I had the same issue with both films. Amazing to look at but lacked character development, dialogue, and compelling characters. Call me crazy but I need more than symbolism and allegory in my films.

  3. Honestly, what a waste of time (not your review – the film haha). Firstly, Refn should have kept the film completely silent considering how awful the dialogue was. Refn makes his film more about the mood than anything else, but when everything else is embarrassingly falling apart, its hard to let the mood take over. Gosling is unfortunately stuck playing a dull character that I don’t feel he had the right presence for, and when he finally shows some emotion it becomes so over the top, it’s laughable.

    I love me some Kristen Scott Thomas, but she came across very amateurish.

    Nice review, but Only God Forgives stands as one of the worst films of the year for me.
    Glad you didn’t like it either haha.

    • Agreed.

      I have seen a lot of flicks this year, and, unfortunately a number of them have been very bad, so this one doesn’t land on my worst of the year list. But it ain’t good. That’s a point with which I completely agree.

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