#Watchlist: Only God Forgives

To be honest, I don’t know much (if anything) about cinema. But it’s been a while that I’ve been thinking of writing (alas, randomly) about films that I like/watched/intend to watch. Forgive me if I say something stupid (that’s bound to happen) and overlook my at times affectionate response to some films. These will not be reviews per se, but more of my opinion and perceptions on the films. Shall we?


I guess I was not the only one curious about the second collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling after the mega successful Drive. But I am guessing not most people who looked forward to it will like it as much. The reason is simple: this is almost the opposite of Drive.

The story is placed in Bangkok and revolves around the consequences of a crime committed by Billy (Tom Burke). He raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and ended up dead as well. Billy’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) goes to Bangkok to collect her son’s body and to deal with his murderers. She is certain she can’t count on her youngest son, Julian (Ryan Gosling), the monosyllabic guy who runs a boxing club in the city as a façade for their drug-dealing business. Of course that the search for revenge is exactly what drives characters and what is, ultimately, their doom.

movie poster

movie poster

The pace of Only God Forgives is slow, the scenes dramatically put together. The result is one disturbing film with graphic violence and a fair amount of blood, be warned. Very little dialogue, yet excellent performances. And hats off to Vithaya Pansringarm who plays Chang, the official cop/angel of death of the city.

It intrigues me how recurrent the mother-children relationship has been explored in cinema lately. Something to look into. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a terrifying mother who professes her love for her sons very bluntly if not disquietingly. When she arrives in Bangkok, she questions the reason why her oldest son was killed:

Julian: Billy raped and killed a sixteen year old girl.

Crystal: I’m sure he had his reasons.

That ought to tell us who Crystal is, huh? The oppositions between her sons are hinted at, but never developed to the fullest. Actually, none of the characters are developed to the fullest, so we are left wondering. In fact, I was puzzled by Julian’s relationship with women, which serves as an open counterpoint to his brother’s behavior. I want to believe it is more than mama issues. I really believe it is more than that, if you pay attention to the little things throughout the film that seem to say that Julian has a consciousness that’s eating him alive. However, it is not a film without a purpose, but I believe some people will look for a clearer ‘moral’ because the film itself gives you very little to work on. I don’t see it as problem; personally, I do enjoy the ‘go figure for yourself’ kinds of plots, but maybe here (due to all the violence and misogyny) people may complain a bit.

Julian at the night club

Julian at the night club

The cinematography of Larry Smith is stunningly beautiful: great uses of color contrasts, lots of cold/warm oppositions and so much red as well as light/dark games. It all builds a very specific atmosphere that is completed by Cliff Martinez’s score (Drive). It feels somewhat experimental with shots that place the viewers as observers or, at times, spies. It is also interesting to note the opposition between the interior of the boxing club and the outside (the city per se and the hotel) and how the colors work beautifully.

Overall, it is a very crazy film and I confess I had to struggle a little. Other than that, I think it is artistically ambitious and it delivers a distressing story filled with great performances and gorgeous visual.


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