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Only God Forgives

by Leonard Maltin
July 19, 2013 12:01 AM
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Ryan Gosling-Only God Forgives-680

Some people value style over content; I prefer a melding of the two, which is why I found Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive so irritating and pretentious. But it could pass itself off as a Disney movie compared to his newest effort, Only God Forgives. The director also wrote this heavy-handed revenge melodrama (or is it a bone-dry comedy?) set in Bangkok.

Ryan Gosling, instructed again to maintain a poker face from start to finish, plays a man who traffics in drugs. His brother’s murder arouses the ire of two formidable figures: a local policeman who doesn’t hesitate to use a massive sword that he carries on his person—after which he relaxes by singing in karaoke bars—and Gosling’s mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, whose manner (and foul mouth) are almost as lethal as that polished steel weapon. It’s always interesting to watch this talented actress flex her muscles (here, playing a cold-hearted American) but I’m sorry it’s in such a tiresome movie.

Everything about Only God Forgives is shrouded in mood lighting and an air of portent. There is no particular suspense, as we are never in doubt that the policeman is going to use his sword to eviscerate the people who get in his way. It’s only a question of when and where the violence will occur.

As an exercise in high style, I suppose Only God Forgives has its merits. If one has a perverse sense of humor, I suppose its overall absurdity might score a few points. I found nothing of value here.

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  • Kyle | August 20, 2013 8:27 AMReply

    No disrespect... I dig your work, and understand disagreeing about film is normal. But one question. You didn't like the score or visuals? Most I know hated this, and I actually only liked it for the minimalist approach, stylized violence(overboard obviously), and music.

    Thomas was great. Oh, and as a guy who doesn't think Gosling is the best actor; he seems much stronger in films where he has less lines. His character was in a chosen hell stuck between his mother who could be seen as the devil and the ex boxing champ/cop who's seen as a God. I thought that Drive was overrated, and hated the 80's Russian pop songs added while the score was much more effective.

    I guess that I'm the only person who thought that this was better than Drive who believes that film was made by Albert Brooks, Cranston, Perlman and husband released from prison in the middle of the film carried it. I saw the Driver which was a superior film who was seriously ripped-off. The only difference, well, Walter Hill's film had amazing car chases that are realistic, intense, and was almost nonstop.

  • Venise Alstergren | July 20, 2013 2:22 AMReply

    Loved your comment, it came right from the heart. Thanks for warning me.

  • Mike | July 19, 2013 5:41 PMReply

    I'm always incredulous of how some of these overly hyped action flick fanboys (below) get their panties in a bunch over a negative review of a flick they haven't seen yet but just KNOW it has to be "awesome" or "amazing"...or whatever! We saw this reaction with the latest "Batman", "Superman" and "Lone Ranger" reincarnations and we're seeing it with this revenge bloodbath epic. It's only rated 34 per cent positive on Rotten Tomatoes...but of course the two thirds majority of those critics have it all wrong too huh? Go ahead and spend your $12.00 if you're a glutton for punishment though! The studios will love you for it! And as "M." says below "this film went over everyone's linear heads." Uh huh! All praise the Saint Quentin wannabes!

  • A different Mike | July 20, 2013 10:41 AM

    You've proven yourself just as bad as them by relying on RT. You yourself are judging a film based simply on what critics are saying rather than by your own criticism. At least a third of the critics DID like it, so why is it a problem that others want to like it as well?
    There are plenty of films rated highly on RT that are, in my opinion, terrible (The Avengers, Avatar, and many more). Meanwhile there are plenty of poorly-rated films that I do enjoy. RT is a tool people use to justify their own opinions as "Correct" and to bash others who are "Wrong" whether or not they've even viewed the film.

  • Jeffrey | July 19, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    This film was booed at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • Jacob | October 28, 2013 11:55 PM

    I wasn't at Cannes... I'm a construction worker who loves movies and appreciates a $12.00 ticket. That said, I booed at this in a Alamo Drafthouse when it was over (i wasn't alone).

  • M. | July 19, 2013 1:56 AM

    @JON - My point exactly, gotta love haters!

  • Jon | July 19, 2013 1:06 AM

    It received a standing ovation simultaneously. Other films booed at Cannes were Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, The Tree of Life, and Wild At Heart.

  • M. | July 19, 2013 12:52 AM

    Who gives a fuck about reception? if that were the case than every other commercialized piece of Hollywood fare would be glorified. Oh wait there's the problem! This film went over everyone's linear heads.

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