Derek Winnert

Only God Forgives *** (2013, Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm) – Movie Review

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Ryan Gosling stars as Julian, an American drug smuggler in Bangkok where he’s the manager of a boxing club as the front for his real business. Unfortunately his happy life then all goes pear-shaped when his older brother kills an underage prostitute. The local law calls in an old ex-cop to sort things out.

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He’s apparently the Angel of Vengeance, so that’s nice then. If it was set in London, they’d have cast Ray Winstone, but luckily or unluckily it isn’t. As it’s in Bangkok, Vithaya Pansringarm gets to play the quietly raging (I guess) ex-police inspector Chang, retired and extremely dangerous. He looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but you’d better not get anywhere near him.

Chang gets the underage prostitute’s dad to kill Julian’s brother and chops off the dad’s right hand to restore order. And then, in between singing silly love songs (‘Can’t Forget, Missing Home’) at a bar, he sets off on a spree of mutilating and killing people. So the body count piles up rather alarmingly.

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Round about then, Julian’s god-awful mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), a nutty criminal gang lady, arrives in Bangkok in order to collect her son’s body. But, while there, she compels Julian to find and kill the person responsible for his brother’s death. In the old, old story, vengeance leads to more vengeance and so on till it’s the last man standing.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling made Drive together, so a great deal is expected of this movie. It’s an art-movie thriller, a genre I personally dislike, because all too often there’s not much art and not many thrills. That’s pretty much how it pans out here.

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The level of violence is appallingly high and realistically staged in a movie that mostly isn’t realistic at all, playing like a parody of a 1970s-style thriller. It has an early David Cronenberg feel about it. Only God Forgives is definitely not for the squeamish or those with any kind of delicate sensibilities. If you like seeing eye stabbing and heads and arms being slashed off, this is definitely the movie for you.

Gosling and Scott Thomas (grotesquely dressed and way over made-up to look like a drag queen) try their damnedest to find a way to make it work but I’m afraid it really doesn’t. As a screen persona, Thomas seems far too nice, thoughtful and intelligent always. She’s a very fine actress but she just can’t suggest she’s American or Gosling’s mom or that she’s a vicious, evil so-and-so. She can be devious or deceptive on screen, but not Mrs Evil.

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Gosling seems a bit lost in the Bangkok underworld. Do you believe he killed a man years ago? I don’t think so. When he suggests a fight with Pansringarm, you think ‘are you mad?’, run away little boy, he’s going to demolish you.

Unpleasant, truly nasty as it is, it’s still an interesting, even fascinating, extremely well-crafted movie, not at all a complete waste of time. It’s perfectly achieved. This is exactly the film Refn wanted to make. But you leave the cinema, gasping for fresh air, glad to be away from the stench of blood, the mood of violence, the corpses and the rancid air of the film.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Movie Review

Check out more reviews on http://derekwinnert.com

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