Could 'Only God Forgives' recapture that magic?
Julian (Ryan Gosling) is an American in Bangkok, hiding from his criminal past in America. His low profile is somewhat blown when his screw-up brother Billy (Tom Burke) kills a prostitute and is then killed by Chang (Vithaya Panringarm) a retired police officer who has become a vigilante. The boys' mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a prominent organized crime figure back in America and comes to Thailand for her son's funeral. She goads Julian into getting revenge.
This kicks off a series of events as the bodies begin to pile up as both Chang and Julian seek their own forms of vengeance and closure.
For a short movie, this drags at parts. These leisurely-paced scenes are broken up by the occasional moment of extreme violence. Even more disorienting is the fact that Julian experiences a number of bizarre visions. After a while, you can figure out what scenes are real and what is in his head, but it is a bit distracting. Is this supposed to illustrate that he is troubled? If so, thanks for hitting us over the head with that point.
Much of the script, specifically the dialog, is rather weak and cliched. There is very little talking throughout much of the story as characters don't always reveal their motivations early in the film. Clarity comes as the story progresses and it builds momentum, but some strange things happen seemingly for the sake of strange things happening.
The incredible atmosphere that helped to define 'Drive' is somewhat recreated here. Refn is certainly on his game stylistically. Thailand seems to offer almost as much neon as (a seemingly 80's era) Los Angeles. Cliff Martinez returning to do the music really helps to set the mood.
Perhaps what works best here is the fact that the line is very blurred between who is good and bad. Chang is ridding the streets of the criminal element, but one could argue that he goes way overboard. Julian is the obvious protagonist and is conflicted about the situation he is thrust into, but he is on the wrong side of the law, nonetheless.
Every single character in this movie underacts to a fault. The lone exception is Thomas who overacts to a fault. It seems as though Refn has a thing for featuring emotionally stunted, ill-communicating characters who allow long stretches of silence to linger on screen. Gosling seems to only have about one or two dozen lines in the whole movie as his function is to stare a lot just like with 'Drive.' Even fanatical fans of him will be heavily tested by this. The real star of the film is Pansringarm.
Special features include: behind the scenes, director interview, commentary, and a look at Cliff Martinez's music.
In short, 'Only God Forgives' has many of the wrong elements from 'Drive'. Some of Refn's superficial qualities remain intact and represented, but this was a real letdown.
Rated R 90 minutes 2013