Only God Forgives comes with the weight of massive expectation heaped on its shoulders. Nicolas Windings Refn’s follow up to Drive, far from embracing that film’s success, seems to deliberately shy away from it and turns expectations on their head. It has a lot more in common with Valhalla Rising and his earlier films and at times feels a little like Winding Refn’s Kid A, a response to the success of Drive and almost a deliberate attempt to make a sparse and inaccessible film. However if you can stomach the first ten minutes and are aware of what you are walking into then Only God Forgives is a very good film indeed.
As with the director’s previous work the visuals here are striking to say the least, it is a beautiful film from start to finish and evokes a dreamlike feeling throughout. The heavy use of red sets up an uncomfortable atmosphere throughout (at times evoking the more surreal scenes from Twin Peaks) and this, combined with masterful use of extreme violence, means that is certainly a challenging film – but it was never meant to be anything else.
Cliff Martinez is once again on scoring duties and whilst not as immediate or in your face as previous scores he delivers an understated evocative soundtrack that really gels with the feel of the film and enhances the ethereal quality so well established by the visuals.
The lack of dialogue is evident from the start and some people will struggle with this, it does make it more difficult to develop characters when they are given little or nothing to say but it is of credit to Winding Refn and his abilities as a visual story teller that the story still continues to make sense throughout.
Additionally the performances are fantastic and despite his presence on the poster Ryan Gosling’s Julian takes a little more of a backseat than one might expect. He plays his role well but its the other two leads that really shine here. Vithaya Pansringarm as the brutal and mysterious Thai police official Chang is absolutely superb and threatens to steal the show if it wasn’t for the fantastic Kristen Scott-Thomas playing completely against type as Julian’s over-powering matriarch.
Only God Forgives will prove divisive amongst audiences and critics alike but if you are already a fully paid up Winding Refn devotee then seek this out at once as it really is quite brilliant.