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.