Only God Forgives (2012)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #216

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 2 August 2013 (UK)
Genre: Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $4,800,000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Producers: Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn
Special Effects: Nareerat ‘Jiu’ Aphiphunya, Kittichon Kunratchol
Visual Effects: Martin Madsen
Cinematography: Larry Smith
Score: Cliff Martinez
Editing: Matthew Newman
Studios: A Grand Elephant, Bold Films, Film i Väst, Gaumont, Wild Bunch
Distributors: Lionsgate, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Rhatha Phongam, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon, Kowit Wattanakul, Wannisa Peungpa, Narucha Chaimareung, Danai Thiengdham, Wittchuta Watjanarat, Nophand Boonyai


Suggested Audio Candy

Cliff Martinez “Wanna Fight (Only God Forgives)”

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I make no secret of the fact that Drive is one of the grandest films I have had the pleasure of viewing over the past five years or so. Director Nicolas Winding Refn crafted a thing of great beauty, drenched  it in neon hues and decorated with an eighties style synchronized score which transported you effortlessly to another time and place entirely. It also heralded the start of a tight partnership between director and its impossibly beautiful lead Ryan Gosling who, along with up-and-coming starlet Carey Mulligan and the superb Albert Brooks, excelled and seemed to appreciate the director’s vision.

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The Gosling as he is affectionately referred to is that rare breed. A man for both sexes, he is the dude every fella desires to be and every woman wishes to have inside her cum dumpster. Unspeakably fine-looking, he also exudes cool from every pore and, in the driver, gifted us with a strong silent type who we took to our hearts in a second. He also managed to banish the demons of The Notebook once and for all, showing a darker side to his psyche which, combined with Refn’s exclusive styling, lifted the stylish thriller into the realms of such classics as Steven Soderbergh’s magnificent The Limey.

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When I realized the pair were to be reunited I was understandably beside myself. It is a match made in heaven and, moreover, Gosling is the ideal candidate to play the character Refn had in mind. Dialogue is secondary to atmosphere once again and he has a face which speaks a thousand words without the necessity for lengthy monologues. However, Refn’s latest feature couldn’t be further removed from its predecessor. It shares distinct similarities, most notably the impression that your eyes are being made love to for 90 minutes, but it is colder, more calculated and far less emotionally relatable.

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Gosling plays Julian who, along with suspect older brother Billy (Tom Burke), runs a boxing club in Bangkok as a front for a lucrative drugs operation. This isn’t a few deals of hash we’re speaking of, it’s the hard stuff – heroine and coke to be precise. After a typically muted but technically colloquial opening we are exposed to Billy’s questionable moonlight exploits and his penchant for underage Thai girls. It doesn’t end well for him and it is Julian who is left to pick up the pieces as his older brother’s parting gift is to leave him a large shit sandwich to chomp upon.

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Alas, the person cutting the sandwich into bite-sized chunks with his gleaming Eastern machete is retired cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) and this isn’t the dude you want supplying the buffet for a Greek wedding let me tell you. His methods are not exactly kosher and he leads the scent of Billy’s bloody trail right the way back to Julian. This is where Only God Forgives may well alienate an unhealthy portion of the audience he gained with Drive. There Gosling played the hero but here he antis it up and his honor and virtue can seem misguided to say the least.

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This isn’t helped by the arrival of his mother and matriarch Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who runs the racket from afar but flies over on receipt of Intel that her older, and favorite, offspring has been killed. Her character is so cold, so calculating and so cutting that Scott Thomas herself finds it uncomfortable viewing this film back. There are hints at incestuous behavior and it leaves it at that. Winding Refn wants the addressee to fill in the gaps and, considering Gosling has less than twenty lines in the whole picture, it is plain to see that metaphor is preferred to any verbal dot-to-dot.

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He may have a handful of lines to remember but The Gosling does offer flashes of warmth and morality  and this keeps us ever-invested. He also donates a beauty in the shape of ‘cum dumpster’, an insult flung brilliantly by Crystal but only coming about when the director asked him for a list of the most vile retorts he could conjure up. Considering the part of Julian was originally intended for Luke Evans, who was sidelined by schedule conflicts with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I’d say thank fuck for hectic timelines and for Peter Jackson’s bloated visions of grandeur. It is abundantly clear that Refn and Gosling have a most profound effect on one another and he brings more than just his Adonis-esque bod to the party.


As much as we are transfixed by every slight facial twitch from Keeper’s biggest man crush, another casts a far greater shadow on this occasion and that is Pansringarm’s Chang (Thai for elephant and considered sacred in Thailand). Maybe it is the fact that his director whispered in his ear “You are God” before each take but he is like a deity throughout and utterly commands the screen through frequent acts of sadistic rage followed by nonchalant Karaoke directly afterwards. The pair go mano-a-mano and we are gifted to an exhibition of why The Gosling undertook Muay Thai training for his role although I will say that he makes Pretty Boy look like Jared Leto by the end of their fisticuffs.

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This brings me to the violence which we are expecting after Drive’s vicious punctuations but are offered in far larger dosage here. It takes a lot to make Keeper flinch, well kind of a lot, but I was squirming like a slug on a spin cycle. Hell hath no fury like a retired Thai cop scorned. Any grue guzzlers will be the gleeful benefactors of a decidedly mean-spirited set of dispatches which will have their lips flapping for weeks afterwards. I’ll flap mine post-appraisal as they’re doozies that deserve a further gush.

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Only God Forgives may be one of the most visually arresting pieces of art I have consumed in many a year but Refn’s use of warm primary colors is offset by a steely cold heart which makes it hard to nuzzle close with. However, its grip is as tenacious as three fucks and its 90 minutes slide past like a turd in a flume so any lack of love is replaced by ocular and audible awe. In keeping with the somber tone I depart with a swipe intended for certain members of the press at Cannes when this was debuted in 2013. These pathetic plebs booed the film and this suggests one thing to Keeper… they should find another profession, one they have a fucking clue about. Cunts!


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Have you ever wondered how many blows from a baseball bat it would take to induce head-pulp? Count the swipes. Fancy some spare ribs? Watch them jut after a clinical swipe from silver justice. How about a little neck-ventilation? You’ll be wearing polar necks for a week. Hands on with a uterus? I’ll leave that one at that. One scene stands out like The Gosling’s left cheekbone after its fourteenth thump and it will have you at full wince. Ordinarily Keeper kisses and tells with grue but this one really needs to be experienced rather than relayed.

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Read Drive Appraisal

Read The Neon Demon Appraisal

Read The Bad Batch Appraisal

Read Enter The Void Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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