Now Playing: ‘God’ Awful

Drive‘, the first collaboration between director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling, was one of my favorite films of 2011. It was original, fresh, had a killer soundtrack and a colorful cast of characters. I own the Blu-ray, the soundtrack album, and even stickers from the movie. Needless to say, when I heard that Refn was making another film in the same vein called ‘Only God Forgives’, I was excited with pure joy and couldn’t wait to see it. Not only would the movie star Ryan Gosling again and amp up the violence and suspense, but it would take place in Thailand and pack in enough blood for two films. Man, was I proven dead-wrong about my expectations and came out sorely disappointed.

‘Only God Forgives’ is less than 90 minutes, but feels like three hours as we journey through a slow-moving, neon-laced maze of corridors, violent stare-downs and several brutal murder scenes that would make Tarantino blush. Mixing a bit of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, Refn takes us to the Thailand underworld, where we meet Julian (Gosling), a drug lord who fronts as a boxing promoter. In the first five minutes of the film, Julian’s big brother Billy (Tom Burke) decides that he wants to rape a 14-year-old girl. When he can’t, he goes on a violent rampage until he gets a 16-year-old girl, and then ends up brutally killing her anyway.

After the murder, a senior police chief known as Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) – who dresses like a priest – acts as judge, jury and executioner to his cases. In this particular one, he allows the father of the dead 16-year-old to kill Billy, but also punishes the father for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute, by way of chopping his arm off.

The only saving grace for me in the film is Kristen Scott-Thomas, who plays Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal, the head Mob boss back in the States. She arrives in Thailand to identify and pick up her son’s body, and we see her true colors once she arrives at the posh hotel where the desk clerk won’t allow her to check in early. Once settled, Crystal sees Julian and forces him to get revenge on his brother’s killer. From here, Julian must track down and find Chang before he and his fellow police officers catch up to him and Crystal. What follows is a slow-paced story that seems to move in slow motion with dream sequences and a couple of ultra-violent scenes, including a poor victim being stabbed in the eyes, another burned by hot cooking oil, and much more.

One of the best scenes gives us a little bit of background on Julian’s childhood. When he brings a call girl as his date to a fancy dinner with his mother, Crystal immediately figures out that she’s not his girlfriend, but a prostitute, and asks her specifically, “How many cocks can you entertain with your cum dumpster?” This is followed by a graphic description of her two sons’ penises and why Julian is always jealous of his brother’s bigger size.

While Scott-Thomas may be the most entertaining character due to her impeccable delivery and funny lines, Chang is the most intriguing. He floats across the screen graciously as if he were the angel of death. He never loses his temper, and carries out his executions as if they were the norm. He also follows-up each day with a karaoke number in front of his fellow police officers.

Gosling literally only has a dozen lines in the film, and spends the rest of the time staring at the camera.

The camerawork is great and the movie as a whole looks incredible. It reminds me a bit of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, with tons of Stedicam shots that weave in and out of long corridors. However, that’s really the only aspect of the film I enjoyed. Fans of super-violent movies might want to catch this one purely for that aspect, but for the rest of us, feel free to skip it.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆


  1. “Gosling literally only has a dozen lines in the film, and spends the rest of the time staring at the camera.”

    So, in other words, it’s exactly the same as Drive?


    Bryan, if you think that Drive was fresh or original, you need some watch some of the countless ’80s movies that Refn shamelessly aped with that one. πŸ™‚

    • I thought ‘Drive’ was fantastic. The characters were amazing and the film actually went somewhere and had a purpose. ‘Only God Forgives’ really doesn’t. Plus, seeing Albert Brooks as a bad guy was amazing.

      And yes, I know Refn drew from past movies, but ‘Drive’ could stand on its own.

  2. Ah, come on Josh, I know you don’t like ‘Drive’ (and you have every right to not like it), but shouldn’t you judge this next film on its own merits. I thought it was nothing like ‘Drive’.

    I liked ‘Only God Forgives’. It stayed with me, long after the viewing (some three weeks ago now). In fact, I’m still thinking about it.

    Come on, Josh. You always taught us (your audience) to stand up for ourselves and not be fools in the land of the blind. You always told us to be stubborn in our movie tastes, which is why you’re Dune biggest advocate.

    Check it out. You don’t want to break your own rules. Right?

  3. Timcharger

    Quoted from Josh: β€œGosling literally only has a dozen lines in the film, and spends the rest of the time staring at the camera.”

    So, in other words, it’s exactly the same as Drive?


    Does Gosling at any point in Only God Forgives, offer a kid a toothpick?

    If so, then I have to agree with Josh and pass on it.

  4. Julian, I’m going to wait for blu-ray for God Forgives but, I am going to give it av try.

    Did just watch Spring Breakers. Certainly not the most pleasant or fun movie I have ever watched but it is pretty investing. Although very experimental in form it actual does go someplace and make a point. I have never seen any of this directors other infamous features but I had heard of them. I was shocked by what a good eye he has, could have done without the stunt casting of James Franco. He did a great job as an actor but if that had been a good unknown, it would have made his scenes even more unbearably tense. I thought it was going to be a throw away but it is not really dismissable as garbage.

    IMHO there was a lot of emotion and character in Drive, that is why I’m having a hard time understanding the reactions to this new one. But until I see it with my own eyes, I have no opinion.

  5. Ted S.

    “It was original, fresh, had a killer soundtrack and a colorful cast of characters.”

    Bryan I think you need to check out Walter Hill’s The Driver:

    I enjoyed Drive very much but it reminded me way too much of Hill’s film. It wasn’t anything original to me.

    As for God Only Forgives, I kind of feel the same way, it’s too pretentious and pointless. I’ll give it another shot when it hits Bluray.

  6. mark b

    I agree with bryan kluger,drive was awesome,great soundtrack as well.after watching god only forgives today disappointed great camera work stunning to look at but not much else.

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