Saturday, November 23, 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)(Minor Spoilers)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers, no big twists or reveals**

With some help from his brother, Billy (Tom Burke), Julian (Ryan Gosling) owns and operates a Muay Thai fighting gym in Bangkok. Together, the brothers use the gym as a front for their true source of income: Julian and Billy smuggle and sell heroin and cocaine, and Julian receives the utmost respect as a powerful force in Bangkok’s criminal underworld.

One night, Billy is murdered after raping and beating a sixteen year old prostitute to death. Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) allows the father of the young girl to dismember and savagely beat Billy to death, and the situation becomes more complex, when Julian’s mother arrives in Bangkok to identify Billy’s corpse. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) wants blood for her son’s death, but Julian refuses to kill the father of the prostitute after learning the truth about Billy’s despicable crimes.

Crystal is disgusted by Julian’s lack of loyalty, so Crystal instructs Gordon (Gordon Brown), Julian’s Lieutenant, to order a hit on the man, who killed Billy. But the father’s death isn’t enough for Crystal. Crystal pushes Gordon to order a hit on Lt. Chang, because he’s the man, who allowed Billy’s execution. Gordon warns Crystal about the dangers of targeting a high ranking official in Bangkok’s police department, but an obsession for vengeance clouds Crystal’s judgment.

Julian is torn between morality and the need to satisfy his overbearing mother, as he struggles with the decision to confront Lt. Chang for a one on one fight. Will Julian do the right thing, and look the other way? Or will Julian succumb to Crystal’s never ending requests for vengeance?

Kristin Scott Thomas is amazing as Crystal. Crystal is a nasty, cruel, and merciless tyrant, who constantly berates Julian with no sympathy whatsoever. The dinner scene with Crystal, Julian, and Mai (a prostitute, who shares a close and trusted relationship with Julian) is a good example. Crystal is beyond furious at Julian’s moral stance and unwillingness to extract revenge for Billy’s death, so she trashes and insults Julian in front of Mai. And Crystal doesn’t hesitate, when it comes to pulling any punches. Nothing is off limits for Crystal’s wrath, including comparisons between Julian’s penis size and Billy’s penis size. Thomas has the perfect cold demeanor for Crystal, and her unapologetic and fierce performance is something to admire here.

Julian is a conflicted character, who’s torn between doing the right thing, and honoring his mother’s wishes, as a submissive and loyal son. Gosling’s performance isn’t bad at all, and Gosling’s strong effort is admirable, but Julian is a dazed drone most of the time, who loses control with brief bursts of rage every now and then (i.e. choking Mai after the dinner), so it’s kind of hard to form an emotional connection with this character. Billy doesn't last long here, but Tom Burke is genuinely scummy and repulsive in his short screen time as Billy.

Pansringarm is a menacing  antagonist. There’s an unsettling sense of panic and dread, when Lt. Chang, flanked by his loyal men, steps into the picture with the worst intentions. Using his trusty sword to deliver punishment, Lt. Chang hacks and chops through the opposition with no remorse, and you get a chance to see Chang’s brutal hand to hand combat skills during the fight with Gosling.

Only God Forgives works as a violent and fierce crime thriller. Yeah, the unwavering and brooding tone might annoy or bore some people, but I‘m not in that crowd. Only God Forgives is an eccentric and bloody tale of revenge, trust, and family, featuring brutal violence and a series of nasty death scenes. Nicolas Winding Refn’s precise work behind the camera is superb, and Refn creates the perfect gloomy atmosphere for Only God Forgives. Gosling deserves credit for a strong effort in the leading role, but he’s upstaged by Kristin Scott Thomas. It’s not as good as Drive, but Only God Forgives is another successful and enjoyable collaboration between Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn.

Rating: 8/10

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