It’s difficult to say if Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to 2011’s Drive will appease his fans or win over his critics. It’s likely that Only God Forgives will carve out a new audience that’s quite different from those who flocked to Drive. The two films are very similar and yet completely different. I liked Drive. I didn’t love it, like a lot of people, but I thought the opening scene at least was masterfully crafted, and then the rest of the film maintained a pretty slow pace that made it difficult for me to stay interested. Tonally, Only God Forgives has the same slow pace, and film noir style, but there’s no scene here that really compares to that opening of Drive, so it may be difficult for this to find as big of an audience.
Only God Forgives feels like a film that will benefit from multiple viewings, and I look forward to going through it again at some point. Without knowing what to expect from the film, it requires some time to adjust to how slowly the story is going to unfold. Knowing that, I imagine I’ll be less resistant to it the next time I watch it.
The story is about two brothers. The youngest, Julian (Ryan Gosling; Drive), is charged by his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas; Sarah’s Key) to seek revenge on the Thai police officer who murdered his older brother. The police officer (Vithaya Pansingarm) killed Julian’s brother to seek justice for the murder of a 16-year-old prostitute. This puts Julian in an awkward position, as he finds the actions of his brother detestable, but his mother still wants her revenge.
It’s difficult for me to criticize anything here except for the pacing. The performances are all great, the direction is clean, the Bangkok setting is visually stunning (definitely get the blu-ray of this one if you have the option), and the film noir style held my interest the whole way through.
The performances really are great. Gosling’s minimalist portrayal of Julian is almost completely mute, with every word he says having a lot of purpose. As good as he is, Thomas and Pansingarm blow him out of the water. I’ve never seen Thomas play a role like this. She is cold blooded and manipulative, and she and Julian have this borderline incestuous relationship that is as fascinating as it is bizarre. Pansingarm plays one of the best film villains I’ve ever seen; although, the line between hero and villain is pretty muddy here. The character, Chang, is also a man of few words. He lets his partner do most of the talking, and then stepping in to do something unthinkably brutal to his enemy. Also, he enjoys karaoke.
Special Features include audio commentary from the director, a behind the scenes featurette, Director interviews, and two MP3 downloads off the soundtrack. Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.