The Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s brand of highly stylized violence takes a turn for the nihilistic with “Only God Forgives,” a super-bloody crime tale set in the Bangkok underworld. While there are some cool visuals at times, this film is just ugly, ugly, ugly, and isn’t exciting or interesting enough to make it up for it.
Refn here reunites with star Ryan Gosling; their last collaboration was “Drive,” Refn’s lone American production and one of the best films of 2011. But this is no “Drive” or anything close to it.
Gosling, as in “Drive,” is once again an underworld hanger-on who barely speaks. Here, he plays an American expat in Thailand, running a boxing club that’s actually a front for a drug operation. Early on, his brother kills a prostitute and is then killed himself by a notorious policeman, and the rest of the film depicts the quest for revenge.
Also on hand is Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling’s mother, making quite an impression as a character who’s seemingly channeling Katey Sagal’s tough-broad character from Sons of Anarchy. Also in common with Sons- an occasional dribble of low-ago family secrets, and totally uncompromising graphic violence.
In all, the problem is that “Only God Forgives” is one of those movies that’s horribly ugly and unpleasant, but doesn’t have enough going on to make it worthwhile. Sure, there are some cool visuals- albeit with numerous aesthetic lifts from the Stanley Kubrick canon- and an impressively booming score by Cliff Martinez.
Refn, I’m shocked to learn from a recent profile by Amos Barshad in Grantland, was inspired to become a film director by… Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks.” You could say he uses blood the way Smith uses dick jokes- very well, but not always so wisely, probably too much.
“Only God Forgives” is now playing in a handful of cities and is also available on-demand via iTunes.