Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn watched his career skyrocket after the critical success of his 2011 breakout film, Drive. While a small niche of fans have always been familiar with his unique style that's present in earlier works such as the Pushertrilogy, Valhalla Rising and Bronson, Refn's brand was placed front and center of the general public after his Best Director crown at the Cannes Film Festival. But love him or hate him, the filmmaker returns with another highly controversial and immensely polarizing piece of cinema in his latest work, Only God Forgives.
Julian (played by Ryan Gosling) and Billy are American-born drug-smuggling siblings living in the criminal underworld of Bangkok. But when Billy is brutally murdered through the oversight of a local police officer, their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in town and demands that Julian seek vengeance for the death of his older brother.
Writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives is a perverse and depraved feature, one that alienates a large portion of any viewing audience. But despite the film's ultra-violent approach and despicably uncomfortable sexual undertones, the Danish filmmaker's most recent effort is both stylish and compelling. For all of its brutality and uncontrollable downward spiraling, Only God Forgives is exactly like the accident that unfolds before your eyes, but you can't look away. There's something dark and animalistic deep within humanity and Refn not only tries to capture that essence, he actually savors it. I applaud the director's keen sense of wonder and the reckless ambition that drives him to make such a gritty and daring film. Because without filmmakers pushing the envelope and crossing boundaries, we're left with nothing but summer blockbusters and mundane stories. If not for any other reason, Nicolas Winding Refn deserves a gratuitous amount of respect.
Truth be told, Only God Forgives is messy feature with a slew of shortcomings. For anyone who felt that Drive was too sluggish of a film with minimal dialogue and drawn-out sequences, Refn's newest release takes those aspects to a whole other level. Doing so merely for dramatic effect, the end result is a poorly paced and unfulfilled viewing experience. Rather than dialing up the adrenaline and keeping the movie up-tempo, Refn resorts to long sustained shots that force Only God Forgives to unwind at a crawling pace. And while I'm usually not the type of person to harp on about excessive violence, Winding leaves nothing to the imagination with his show-all approach. Clearly the type of film meant for a select audience, Only God Forgives is certainly an acquired taste.
Highly regarded stars Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas find themselves in the forefront of Nicolas Winding Refn's latest piece of work. Although many will question their decisions to jump on board this revenge-filled tale of murder and sexual deviance, it's these gifted performers who truly make Refn's unconventional story come to life. While I emphatically suggest staying away from this film for a multitude of reasons, any avid fan of Refn's previous stylish work may find a silver lining just like I did.