**BEWARE: This edition of ‘Final Thoughts’ includes some light spoilers. You’ve been warned!**
Here’s the problem with ONLY GOD FORGIVES: it’s not DRIVE. Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s follow-up to their sensational, breathtaking 2011 collaboration is a completely different film in every sense of the matter. To put it into better terms, other than the fact that this film stars Gosling and boosts a score from DRIVE composer Cliff Martinez, there’s really no similarity between it and Winding Refn’s previous directorial effort.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a difficult pill to swallow. The film takes place in Bangkok and in so, Winding Refn shot it to reflect that. Feeling way more like a Thai film than traditional Hollywood fare (even the film’s opening/ending credits are primarily in Thai), ONLY GOD FORGIVES tries too hard to be cool and in the end ultimately fails at whatever it set out to be. While the lead character of Julian is a scruffy, misunderstood son of a drug-queen, he’s also almost identical to Gosling’s Driver character from DRIVE in the sense that he’s half-mute and always walking around with sad puppy-dog eyes. Don’t get me wrong; I love Gosling as an actor and his performance in DRIVE rocked me to my core, but the character of Julian did absolutely nothing for me in this film. He was boring, confused and forgettable.
Kristin Scott Thomas was an odd choice for this film. While she portrayed the role of Julian’s mother, Crystal, to absolute perfection, I just couldn’t help but think about how out-of-place she seemed. With that said, she played a bitch like no other and I was pleasantly surprised. There’s one scene where she’s verbally ripping apart a hotel manager and I couldn’t help but smile. You’d think that she would’ve been a risky choice for this film — and she may’ve been — but I couldn’t’ve casted the part any better.
Thai actor and master fighter Vithaya Pansringarm downright steals the show. ONLY GOD FORGIVES is very much his film — more-so than Gosling. In the film, Pansringarm plays Captain Chang, a relentless yet respected cop who uses the most brutal methods possible to seek justice. It’s a shame that the film’s story was such a convoluted mess at times because it really made it hard to fully enjoy the excellent performance that Pansringarm was giving. Chang was a scary character — one that teetered on the edge of hero and villain — and Pansringarm deserves much credit for bringing him to life (as well as carrying the majority of the film).
Now obviously, Winding Refn would be considered an “artsy” director, so I wasn’t expecting ONLY GOD FORGIVES to be a rollicking action flick in the same vein of something like BANGKOK KNOCKOUT, but like I said earlier, there were times when he seemed like he was trying too hard. For one thing, the film is absolutely littered with quiet, slow-paced shots of characters walking long distances. Walking down hallways, through alleys, down sidewalks, through doors — just lots and lots of walking. Sometimes I felt like I was playing a video game — controlling a character to just walk around aimlessly while staring ahead with a blank expression. I don’t mind shots like these, but not when they’re right after each other over and over again. It honestly took me right out of the film.
Another thing that plagued the film were all the unexplained answers/occurrences. What was in that dark doorway that Julian always looked into? What happened to Crystal’s go-to guy; did he go back to America? Is this scene taking place after the last scene or before it? I was constantly questioning myself which only caused me to pay even more attention. In doing so, I became even more lost in the film’s constant loop of plot-holes. In fact, in the end, I’m not even sure that the film truly had a cohesive plot.
It’s not all bad news, though. Martinez returned to score ONLY GOD FORGIVES after his pulse-pounding soundtrack for DRIVE and his hypnotizing themes alongside the film’s vibrant colors and beautiful cinematography made for a wonderful feast to both the eyes and ears. That’s one thing that this film definitely had going for it; it’s sure damn pretty at times.
All-in-all, I’m quite disappointed. DRIVE is a film that I put into my Top 10 for favorite films of all time without even questioning myself. Due to that, I think my expectations were too high for ONLY GOD FORGIVES. It’s an ambitious film that tries to be something new instead of just following in DRIVE’s footsteps. For that, I commend it… but I just can’t like it, no matter how hard I try. It’ll definitely gain a fandom amongst its audience and that’s great; if it can be enjoyed, it should be enjoyed. Maybe I’m just not a part of the proper demographic that this film would/will appeal to. Nevertheless, these are just my opinions after my viewing and I really hope that filmgoers still give it a shot to draw their own conclusion.
Final Thoughts are an opinion, not a review. I don’t believe that anyone should base their own opinion on that of another person. Reviewers and critics are just regular people like everyone else and their opinion shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all. What you just read were my Final Thoughts of ONLY GOD FORGIVES. I hope you share yours.