Only God Forgives is Ryan Gosling’s second collaboration with writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. He stars as Julian, who operates a Muay Thai gym in Thailand as a front for his illegal drug operation. While their first collaboration, Drive, is full of suspense, Only God Forgives manages to get a steady sense of anxiety.
Julian’s brother is killed and his mother tasked him to go after everyone involved in the killing. But revenge ends up with more harm as the people he is initially chasing after are now chasing after him. The scenes play out as a fantasy instead of being true to life.
Filmmaker Winding Refn features underplayed performances from the actors in Only God Forgives. The only character who shows a lot of emotion is Julian’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). She exaggerates more than all the other cast members combined. Gosling might headline the movie but he is merely a pawn in the story.
Winding Refn is known for violence and it is quite surprising to find Only God Forgives to contain less gore than what is expected from a movie about murder and revenge. It has less blood and gore than Drive.
Only God Forgives utilizes visuals and sounds to relay emotions. It makes up for the lack of narrative. This is due to the work of director of photography Larry Smith, who worked in the past for Stanley Kubrick. His underworld is filled with neon hues. Cliff Martinez, who also worked on Drive, provides the score that is filled with electronic music. The movie shows the seedy part of Bangkok.
Only God Forgives could have been better if director Winding Refn changed the narrative and turned it into another Drive. It is aesthetically beautiful but the narrative bogged down the experience. The movie is still interesting for some of its parts but it is clearly not as good as Drive.