"Time to meet the devil."
I've never gone from a love-hate relationship as fast as I have with Nicolas Winding Refn after watching Only God Forgives. His prior film, Drive, was my favorite movie of 2011 and now only two years later I was utterly disappointed with his follow up movie also staring Ryan Gosling. Everything that I loved about Drive, I hated about this film. It was an exercise in style, but it lacked substance. It's an existentialist surrealistic film that never managed to connect with me. I have to admit the style and the visuals were great, but the story was way too vague and the movie didn't say anything to me. I know that there are many film buffs that loved this film and have explained the meaning of the story, but despite understanding what they are saying it didn't really say anything to me. I respect their point of view, but I can't justify a film that narratively didn't draw me in or had no meaning to me personally. I wouldn't want to waste another 89 minutes of my life re watching it and trying to find a deep new meaning just because I didn't see it the first time around. Only God Forgives is a very divisive film and in a way that proves Refn's success here. He did manage to reach to a specific audience just like a specific art piece speaks to one person but to another it is just a paper drawing. Despite how much respect I have for Refn I have to say this was simply an empty exercise in style that we've seen in much better films in the past.
Julian (Ryan Gosling) manages a Thai boxing club in Bangkok, but it is only a cover up for his underground drug operation which is the real reason as to where the money comes from. His partner and brother, Billy (Tom Burke) rapes and kills a 16 year old girl and all hell breaks lose. A former police officer, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), allows the victim's father to kill Billy in order to restore order and balance, but when Billy and Julian's mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), arrives in town to reclaim her son's dead body she asks Julian to kill those people responsible for killing his brother.
The plot may seem pretty straightforward like any other revenge movie, but this is far from it. It is a slow paced film with long shots of colorful wallpapered hallways full of silent moments, it is stylish and has little characterizations, the narrative is surreal and dreamy, it sometimes can seem pretentious and extremely showy which may leave the audience feeling tedious, and it is brutal and sadistic in its portrayal of violence. There are extreme close ups on Ryan Gosling whose character shows no emotion at all. I felt like he was just in a photo shoot at times simply modeling for the camera. He only has 22 lines in the entire movie. He was completely empty, but it was exactly the character he was asked to play. Kristin Scott Thomas is supposed to play this menacing character, but she reminded me of Lady Gaga in her weird days. I didn't enjoy her performance at all. Everyone was detached or at least that is how I felt towards the movie. Pansringarm also played a very silent character with some sort of supernatural ability or quality. He was sort of the God figure who was sent to restore order and justice. There is a lot of style in this film and several stunning camera shots but the movie is extremely dull and hollow.