Only God Forgives


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Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer[s]: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Golsing, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

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Drive might have been my favorite movie of 2011. The visual style and colors, the visual story telling and lack of dialogue, the surprising and shocking violence; it all really worked for me, and many others. Globally, audiences were split between love and hate for the film. Now the time has finally come for the follow up to the indie hit, and it features the same lead actor and same stylistic production, but this is undoubtedly not Drive 2.0. This film is it’s own, weird, disturbing, beautiful self.

Although it may not necessarily seem like it, the film is a Western taking place in Thailand. It uses very western cultured themes: the death of a brother, the controlling mother, the journey for revenge, the “dirty” cop who thinks he is God, etc. Other than these arcs, the film is far different than any western I have ever seen.

Refn utilizes silence more-so, I believe, than Drive did, and here it very closely borders the line of “too much” silence. I mean, this is almost a silent film. The select dialogue is really strange and perverse, too. Kristin Scott Thomas says some ridiculous things throughout the film, and you’ll find yourself laughing; not necessarily because it’s humorous, but just because you can’t believe someone just said that. The dialogue helps to show these really, really weird relationships between mother and son, guy and girl, good guy and bad guy.

It is still weird to have a film with a 90%/10% visual/dialogue driven film, but you can feel Refn’s hand and direction on literally every shot, and Cliff Martinez also returns to help guide the movie with an awesome, weird, and cool original soundtrack. This time we don’t get the now infamous pre-made tracks from artists like Kavinsky, Chromatics, College, or Desire, but there is one track from P.R.O.U.D. that is just stellar, featured in the trailer.

Being a visually driven movie, the eyes are given loads of content on all sides of a beautiful and horrifying spectrum. The utilization of colors in nearly every shot reminds me of Skyfall, only this film features more personal and close-up camera work, and deeper, more intense colors. Lighting dynamics are also stressed and stylized in a good pairing with all of the other visuals. But beyond the lighting and sets, you can easily find yourself with your hands over your eyes from the actual content of the film. It is definitely violent, but in a different vein that I expected and different than the trailer tends to lead you to believe. It’s not necessarily gory, but there are some graphic shots, and the film unquestionably earns it’s “R” rating.

Being able to look back at the film, I am left satisfied and entertained. I love the characters and all of their different motives and desires [two gods, one from the east, one from the west, battling for their honor]; my room walls can now be littered with awesome posters from all of the beautiful shots found in the film, and I now have a strange desire to travel to Thailand. But the strange thing is the I don’t think I want to ever actually sit down and watch the film again. It was disturbing and penetrating, and sometimes bordering on boring or dull. For one of the first times I’m not sure that I can decide whether or not I truly liked the film. Another viewing could make me fall in love with it and put it on my all-time favorites list, or it could just as easily turn me off to everything I enjoyed about it the first time through and could be thrown onto my least favorites list. Just this once, I think I am comfortable leaving my opinion right square in the middle ground.

My Rating

2.5/4 – Only God Forgives is a Western film in the East, with great character dynamics and classic western story arcs, but it is completely different from any western you’ve seen before. Peppered with beautiful colors, lights, camera work, and music, but also equally sprinkled with disturbing violence and visuals, the film is somewhat a struggle to watch, but left me entertained nonetheless.

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