Nicolas Winding Refn’s revenge thriller Only God Forgives is a masterclass in immersive filmmaking.
Julian runs a boxing club, which is a front for a drug-smuggling operation. When Julian’s brother is killed, Julian is expected to find his killer and exact revenge. The pressure is heightened with the arrival of Julian’s mother, baying for blood…
Only God Forgives is light on both plot and dialogue. This coupled with the emphasis on style and atmospherics makes the film immediately comparable to Winding Refn’s last film Drive. The flimsiness of plot is not a problem, however, as any lack is compensated by the pervasive atmosphere.
There is a sense of tribalism to the whole of Only God Forgives. Themes of revenge and accountability reign supreme. Nicolas Winding Refn does not hand these to the audience on a plate. Exposition is limited in Only God Forgives; viewers are left to come to their own conclusions about characters and their motivations.
Whether intentionally or not, Only God Forgives appears unmistakably Lynchian. The cutting from violence to song and the blurred reality give the film a surreal edge. This is a big part of what makes Only God Forgives so absorbing.
The violence in the film exemplifies the barbarism of the story itself. Some of the most violent scenes are difficult to watch. This will not be a surprise to viewers who have seen Drive.
Only God Forgives is highly stylised. The art direction is fantastic, using a limited palette to offer memorable imagery. The use of red and artificial lighting is key to the whole appearance of the film. Composition is exemplary, and the direction is superb. Sound is also used to great effect, generating an uneasy and burgeoning atmosphere. Cliff Martinez’s score is great.
Performances are in-keeping with the overall style of the film. Ryan Gosling and Vithaya Pansringarm were obviously directed to maintain an expressionless countenance which mirrors the mood of proceedings. Kristin Scott Thomas is marvellous playing the grotesque Crystal.
Only God Forgives may frustrate a minority, but most will find the film engrossing and rewarding.