- Movie Rating -

Only God Forgives (2013)

| July 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

There’s a moment, a very tiny moment, in “Only God Forgives” that is a reminder of energy of the old Chuck Norris movies. The American named Julian faces down the older Chinese man who bears the unsettling nickname “The Avenging Angel.” They stand in a large open room, prepared for a mano-a-mano. There’s fierceness in the American’s eyes tinged with trepidation and fear. The older man’s face is a mask of dead calm – we sense that he’s been in this exact scenario many times. For a moment, there is hope the scene will build into something spectacular. That hope is quickly dashed. The scene is all-too-brief and, like much of the movie, basically pointless.

Only God Forgives is a slow, listless neo-noir nightmare, a revenge thriller featuring characters that are either walking toward something or looking off in the distance with a blank expression. One or two scene like that might be effective, but after an hour of the same scene over and over again, it begins to wear on your patience, especially since little attempt is made to establish the characters beyond their immediate circumstances. The introspection is sometimes broken when one person kills another, but even those scenes seem kind of blah.

The movie takes place in a section of Bangkok where everything is lit with either schemes of red or blue – mostly from the neon lights. The place looks as if a part of Las Vegas had dropped down into Hell. This particular section of Bangkok is a pit of human animals. The male population is made up of drug dealers and pimps, and the female population is made up almost exclusively of prostitutes. Within this dimly-lit environment stands Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American who runs a Thai boxing operation that fronts for a major drug smuggling ring. Whatever has transpired in his life before the movie began has wrung out all humanity and personality. He mostly stands expressionless.

Julian’s brother is Billy (Tom Burke), a nervous type who gets into trouble when an underage hooker turns up dead. Billy’s fate is met at the hands of the young girl’s father. What happens next operates more or less on the idea of “an eye for an eye.”

That philosophy comes courtesy of Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) – he’s “The Avenging Angel” – who considers himself something of a god and dispatches justice with a rather nasty-looking samurai sword. In the off hours, he spends time at a local karaoke club warbling love songs to a disinterested (not to mention sparse) listening audience. He doesn’t look like your average killing machine; in fact he has the look of a kindly grandfather.

Neither of these characters really have any definition beyond their circumstances. Most disappointing is Ryan Gosling who, after brilliant performances in Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, and The Place Beyond the Pines has proven that he is one of the best actors of his generation. Here he doesn’t have much to work with. He stands around with a blank expression on his face looking just off-camera at something. He does this in his best roles where it is established what is on his mind. Here he seems to be sleepwalking. His only energetic moment takes place when he screams at a prostitute to take off her dress. Scene after scene, we wait for Julian to spring to life, to give us a reason to care about him, but it never comes.

Some insights into Julian’s personality (or lack thereof) come in the form of a 5”6 nightmare in stacked heels. His mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok to bury her eldest son and we can see right away that she’s no typical mother with cuddles and kisses. Standing on heels with long blond hair and a cigarette poised to the side she bares a look that might be right at home in an old Walt Disney movie. Her approach to her son is hedonistic, manipulative and, we suspect, slightly incestuous. This is a very good performance. Thomas has always been a good actress, but here she throws herself into a character that has evil buried in her DNA. She’s so effective that you wish the movie were about her. Sadly her scenes are all too brief.

That’s much of the problem with “Only God Forgives.” Director Nicholas Winding Renf has some good ideas here, but they seem cut off just as they are getting interesting. Much of the movie is just a lot of stylistic motion rather than characters. What he has created is a simple-minded revenge thriller without much substance. The movie is too slow and Refn is so in love with his own images that we sit there wondering why we should care.



About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama, Thriller