Only God Forgives (R)

Ryan Gosling readies for a fight in 'Only God Forgives.'
Ryan Gosling readies for a fight in 'Only God Forgives.'

Movie Info

Rating: * * *  1/2

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke.

Writer-director: Nicolas Winding Refn.

Producers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Lene Borglum.

A Radius-TWC release. Running time: 89 minutes. In English and Thai with English subtitles. Vulgar language, sexual situations, nudity, extreme violence, gore, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Miami Beach Cinematheque.

Julian (Ryan Gosling), the protagonist of Only God Forgives, runs a boxing club in Bangkok and drifts through the city like a ghost, relying on prostitutes and strippers for sexual release. The only constant presence in his life is his brother Billy (Tom Burke), who seems just as damaged and estranged. Then something happens that requires their domineering mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), to fly in from the United States and help clean up the mess. Lurking in the background is an unusually astute cop (Vithaya Pansringarm) who wields a sword instead of a gun. He wields it often.

In his follow-up to 2011’s Drive, writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn whittles down the plot and amps up the mood and atmosphere to hypnotic, engrossing effect. Filmed in sumptuous colors by cinematographer Larry Smith, a Kubrick disciple who also shot Eyes Wide Shut, the movie makes creative use of its foreign setting — the glittering elegance of upscale restaurants, the neon-lit seediness and grime of brothels and alleyways, the smooth surfaces and clean lines of a five-star hotel. Refn’s style and aesthetic become part of the narrative, which is simple enough to encapsulate in one sentence. But the story is given dimension and heft by the elliptical way in which it unfolds. Refn dares to give genre respect and gravity — this is, at heart, a straightforward tale of revenge — and he injects a strong Oedipal subtext into the film, hinting at the reasons why Julian is unable to resist his mother’s orders and silently suffers her brusque insults.

The seriousness with which Refn treats Only God Forgives has led to much critical ridicule. But mocking the improbable characters and bizarre juxtapositions is too literal and superficial a reading of this dreamy, entrancing movie. Refn knows exactly what he’s doing — he’s in on the joke — and he revels in the sensory pleasures of film as an art form (the score by Cliff Martinez, who also did Drive, is practically a character here). There are moments in Only God Forgives when you feel an inexplicable urge to laugh, and there are moments, too, when you recoil from the horrors on the screen. In one scene, Gosling drags a man down a hall, pulling him by his upper jaw. In another, the policeman uses sharpened chopsticks to torture a man in ways you wish you could unsee.

Taking a cue from their director, the actors take huge chances. Gosling internalizes his character’s emotional tumult, allowing us to feel the severely scarred psyche churning beneath his still exterior. In Drive, he played a loner who tried to avoid any emotional connection with the world. Here, he plays a man who yearns to form a bond but doesn’t know how. Thomas takes the opposite approach, playing Julian’s venomous mother with an operatic relish (the actress makes poetry out of her character’s astonishingly crude dialogue). As the see-all detective, Pansringarm exudes a samurai vibe — an indefatigable warrior willing to wade into the murkiest of waters. Only God Forgives has been marketed as a martial arts picture — the trailers include a shot of Gosling asking someone “Wanna fight?” — but the movie contains little in terms of traditional action, and Refn never uses it in a rousing or exciting manner, either. That would break the nightmarish spell this strange, beautiful film casts on the viewer. A mother’s love has never been this ruinous.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

Chris Evans (center) and Jamie Bell (left) are about to crack some skulls aboard a speeding bullet train in “Snowpiercer.”

    Snowpiercer (R)

    In the near future, mankind attempts to solve the growing problem of global warming by shooting a missile into space that will lower the planet’s thermostat. Instead, the device plunges Earth into another ice age, killing all life except for the people on a huge bullet train that has been circling the globe for 17 years (don’t ask, just go with it).

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘We are the best!’: </span> Mira Barhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne team up to form a punk rock band.

    We Are the Best! (unrated)

    Much like its title implies, We Are the Best! is a lively, feel-good lark from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, who returns to the upbeat vibe of his early films (Show Me Love, Together) with an altogether new kind of exuberance (the exclamation mark in the title is well-earned). Set in 1982 Stockholm, the film centers on two misfit best friends, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), who are mocked by their schoolmates for their punk hairstyles and androgynous looks (“Just go die somewhere!” one mean girl tells them).

 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Transformers: Age of Extinction”:</span> Mark Wahlberg plays hide and seek with a giant robot.

    Transformers: Age of Extinction (PG-13)

    Everything you learned in science class about dinosaurs turns out to have been wrong. The prehistoric creatures weren’t killed off by global warming or a meteor smashing into Earth: In the opening minutes of Transformers: Age of Extinction, we learn it was Michael Bay and his computer-generated aliens who wiped the creatures out. If the rest of this visually stunning, technically impressive and crushingly dumb and overlong picture doesn’t also quite kill off the cinematic art entirely, at least it sends you home feeling like you won’t be going back to a movie theater for a good while.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category