Only God Forgives Blu-ray Review
ONLY GOD FORGIVES is one of the more visually stimulating movies you will ever come across. It bombards you with treats at every corner of the screen. I may have to watch this again just to see if I missed anything. ONLY GOD FORGIVES also has a musical score that pulsates and is its own entity. But the one thing this film doesn’t have is a story. It is as barren as the desert. That holds it back from becoming a very good film and transforms it to being just an interesting art piece.
Writer/Director Nicholas Winding Refn is a definite talent that was pushed to national prominence with his previous feature, DRIVE. He can be seen as a younger David Lynch. Both auteurs like to push the boundaries in this realm and try to create a world that can be dreamlike or a nightmare or both. One of my favorite films by Lynch was MUHOLLAND DRIVE. It had a great dreamlike quality that was intoxicating and you could not turn away. ONLY GOD FORGIVES could be seen as possessing similar qualities.
Like in DRIVE, Ryan Gosling is the star of the film. Here he plays Julian, an owner of a boxing club in Thailand which serves as a front for drug trade. Gosling does all his acting with his eyes. There is barely any dialogue. There is a sense of sadness and dread of the life that has befallen him. His one comfort is in watching a prostitute named Mai (Rhata Phongam) pleasure herself in front of him. It is a lonely existence, but it seems to take him to a different world and place than what exists.
Early on Julian’s brother Billy (Tom Burke) gets murdered by the father of an underage prostitute that Billy had murdered himself. The father was given free rein to kill Billy by the lieutenant of the police force, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Chang serves as an angel of death. He delivers his own form of justice that he sees fit. After he let the father kill Billy, Chang chops off one of his arms because he allowed his daughter to delve into prostitution. I can safely say that one of the more showy costars of the movie is the blade itself that Chang uses. It is striking and tends to make that nice metallic sound when he takes it out. It is emphasized that Chang means business when his weapon of choice is unsheathed.
Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in town shortly after her first son’s death. She wants blood no matter what the cost. Crystal is a foul character who spews venom and doesn’t care who she hurts. When Julian brings Mai to dinner, Crystal makes it her mission to demean her in every way possible. This is a triumphant role for Scott Thomas as Crystal is a scary human being who is fighting against the world. There is tension brewing underneath the surface between Julian and Crystal. Crystal’s favorite was clearly Billy. His personality matched hers in their love for brutality. There also may have been more to the relationship than just being mother and son. Crystal throws in Julian’s face that doctors wanted her to abort and she didn’t. She always thought he was a different child and she made him do awful things such as implying that he murdered his father at her behest. This is one twisted family that probably didn’t have the traditional holiday meals together.
Refn does a great job with the colors on display. He uses red quite a bit. Red has always been portrayed as an aggressive, forbidden or even angry color. Red is the color of blood, while also being associated with prostitution. He also pops in some bright colors to makes scenes pop or more important. Refn uses it in the dinner scene and near the end as Julian confronts his fate.
The story though is pretty thin. Billy gets murdered after murdering someone himself. His mother comes back to Thailand to get revenge. That’s about it. Horrible things then start to happen to these bad people. Some of the people though are less bad than others. Julian can be seen that way. He spares the father’s life after hearing that his brother killed his daughter. Later on he doesn’t kill a little girl that was on his mother’s hit list. He does have a code in some way on what he is willing to do. Chang on the other hand is a bull in a china shop. He can be described as an avenging warrior or angel who is shedding so much blood for the common good. There are no rules or courts with him. Some people he tortures first before killing them. Others he just gets right to the point. One brutal scene has him taking out the eyes and then the hearing of a person who plotted against him.
Julian and Chang fight near the conclusion for reasons I can’t quite figure. Maybe Refn is trying to make a statement on this two men that they are very much alike, but also different. Chang gives Julian a brutal beating. It was a fight that a referee would have stopped early on. Chang is accustomed to art of fight or war for that matter, while Julian only dipped his toes into this pool every once in a while. Chang is comfortable in what he does, while Julian is uncomfortable in his skin. The final sequence is revealing in how Refn shoots it. It is one of the brightest scenes and shows a man accepting the consequences of his life.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a visual delight that is never dull. It is too bad that the paper thin story brings it down. This is perfect example of a missed opportunity. Or you can aptly say that this was all style over substance. But what style there is.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: A good looking transfer where all the colors, especially red, shine through.
Audio: The film sounds great in 5.1 DTSHD-MA.
Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Damon Wise: Wise acts as a de facto interviewer. He makes a comment or asks a questions and Refn goes off from there. The director is one interesting guy with interesting insights and thoughts on his film.
Director Interviews: (2)
Talking About Thailand with Mark Dinning (6:05): The main discussion is about shooting in Thailand and the advantages that go with that. Refn also briefly touches on the Julian character and how he fits in Thailand.
Discussing Genre Films with Bruno Icher (5:59): Refn riffs on genre films, other directors and how the movie evolved with the dialogue or lack of it as is the case.
The Music of Only God Forgives with Cliff Martinez (9:10): The composer talks about his involvement in the movie and how important the score was to this particular film.
Behind the Scenes (23:27): 12 different takes. You get to see Refn go over specific scenes like the brothel scene or how to go about cutting a man’s arm off. It shows you how he works and how he gets his point across to actors and crew members.