'Only God Forgives' film review: Visually striking film without a pulse or soul
The monotonous crime drama "Only God Forgives" relies on an unrelentingly grim tone, gruesome violence and its leading man to hold wordless, smoldering poses for entirely too long ... while completely forgetting to tell a story that's compelling on any level.
In short: A drug smuggler (Ryan Gosling) is coerced into finding and killing his brother's murderer.
"Only God Forgives" reunites director Nicolas Winding Refn and leading man Ryan Gosling, two key pieces behind the cult-hit 'Drive.' While 'Forgives' may only be a spiritual successor to 'Drive,' its violence is categorically more visceral and it is infinitely less human.
"Drive" was a refreshing, stylized take on an elemental, existential hero - surrounded by charismatic supporting characters - who is forced into an ultra-violent path of destruction through Los Angeles.
"Only God Forgives" is a visually-striking slog anchored by a husk of a protagonist - surrounded by empty, soulless characters - who is forced into taking on an ultra-violent adversary in Bangkok.
"Drive" had a colorful cast of supporting roles, fleshed out with by an ever optimistic mentor (Bryan Cranston), arrogant mobster (Ron Perlman) and a reluctant/ruthless crime boss (Albert Brooks). "Forgives" has an oddly sexualized mother figure (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose only 'interesting' character trait is her love of four-letter words.
Comparing "Drive" to "Only God Forgives" may seem unfair, however, fans of the car-based action flicks are the most likely to actively seek out this odd crime drama. And these "Drive" fans will be disappointed.
"Only God Forgives" takes the 'style over substance' approach to the next unwatchable level. Although this is a beautifully shot film, its storytelling core is hollow. It elects to make imagery more important than character development or narrative structure.
Whole segments of this film feel very ethereal or dreamlike - but not in a good way. Interspersed throughout "Forgives" are a number of odd, out-of-place scenes, such as a violent detective singing karaoke in front of emotionless, unresponsive officers and a character's recurring visions of being maimed. These meandering moments feel like amateur ripoffs from David Lynch's playbook.
Not helping the film's surreal tone is its utter lack of any sort of energy or pulse. Expressionless characters sleepwalk from scene to scene. Almost none of them react at all to any sort of stimuli - even in the face of one character's particularly gruesome string of murders. Characters are brutally raped, dismembered, maimed and brutally tortured ... but it's the sheer absence of reaction that sticks out. If none of the characters react in the slightest to these horrifying crimes, then the audience has less reason to care about what's happening onscreen.
It's never good for a film to feel longer than it actually is - especially when its running time is just 90 minutes. Long scenes between characters are filled with painfully long pauses and dead air between dialogue exchanges.
The film's meager script is comprised is very basic, bland dialogue. This screenplay, which may have less than 100 total words, wastes its minimal word count with dialogue turds, such as: "I know it's hard for you emotionally - you lost your brother."
The hero is empty. His antagonist is just an expressionless 'Terminator'-like killer. Humanity has been wicked from virtually each character.
The best that can be said about "Only God Forgives" is it is stunning movie to look at - but no amount of beautiful imagery or lethargic characters make its grisly violence significant on any level.
Final verdict: Unfortunate combination of lumbering pace, unrelentingly grim tone and lack of interesting characters or story destroy this plodding, cat-and-mouse antithesis of drama.
"Only God Forgives" has a running time of 90 minutes and is rated R for strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language.