Nicholas Winding Refn’s second collaboration with Hollywood heart-throb Ryan Gosling is raw, visceral and, perhaps predictably, unforgiving. Following 2011’s Drive, the world stood up and noticed Gosling – clearly Gosling wishes to return the favour with Only God Forgives.
Very much a director’s film, the dialogue is minimal, the story is sparse and there are distinctive influences from Asian cinema. Vengeance is an oft-recurring theme within Asian cinema and even with the title Only God Forgives by its very nature is a revenge tale. Telling the story of an American expatriate in Bangkok who, through a series of events, aims to seek vengeance over the death of a family member, Only God Forgives unwinds and generates a world which begs the question of where the power lies.
Director of Photography, Larry Smith is a veteran of the Kubrick (oft-misunderstood) classic Eyes Wide Shut and worked on both Barry Lyndon and The Shining, and never is this more evident than the lighting within the night clubs. The images are slick, well-lit and atmospheric, it’s clear that there’s an influence of photography within.
The story itself seems like more of an inconvenience from the surreal images Winding Refn put on-screen. It’s plodding and somewhat predictable however there are many very pleasing set pieces, including a fist fight between Gosling and the films main antagonist, Vithaya Pansringarm’s Lieutenant Chang – who gives a great performance with very little dialogue. He’s given a part of a God-like figure. He’s the higher power
The screenplay as a whole is mainly silent – Kristen Scott Thomas’s character aside – with Winding Refn concentrating more on set pieces, the photography and the theme of vengeance. As stated, this is very much the director’s film that trusts Gosling completely to not steal the show. Gosling’s part is built around silence and being pensive which he’s beginning to master perfectly.
On the whole, the film is deliberate and plodding but very beautifully shot and utterly gripping. Only God Forgives will surely divide opinion and it begs to be discussed and debated – but it cannot be ignored.