Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
by Garon Cockrell
DVD Review: Only God Forgives
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Nov. 2, 2013 5:15 p.m.

Only God Forgives is a very cool, intriguing, definitely strange

and at times mesmerizing film starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm.

The film takes place in Bangkok, where Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a boxing

club. He, his brother and their associates are involved in some shady businesses,

leading to a confrontation with the police.

Julianís older brother

Billy goes out looking for a prostitute. Several of the women are standing in

windows, but they are too old for him. He asks the proprietor for a

fourteen-year-old girl. The proprietor refuses to indulge him, and so Billy

beats him, then goes in after the girls. Itís creepy and quick. He then finds

another prostitute and kills her.

The police come in, and

find Billy still there. This, like many scenes in the film, is done without dialogue.

The film relies on reaction shots, interesting lighting and shadows, as well as

a good score to get across much of the story. A lot of the scenes are dominated

by red and/or blue lights. For example, the opening shots of Julian are all in

red. And then when a deal is going down, we see the charactersí eyes well lit,

but the rest of their faces in shadow.

Anyway, one policeman

calls in the girlís father, and tells him to do what he wants, then leaves him

in the room with Billy. Again, the dialogue is sparse. So much

is done with glances and shadows. And the violence that ensues is shown in

silhouette in front of a red light from down the hall.

Julian meanwhile is in a

red room of his own. He is seated, perfectly still, and a beautiful woman comes

in and wordlessly begins tying his arms to the chair. She then masturbates in

front of him, while he watches silently. Itís intense, due largely to the fact

that there is no dialogue whatsoever in the scene. That is, until a man arrives

to tell Julian that his brother is dead.

Kristin Scott Thomas

plays Crystal, Julianís mother, and her characterís introduction is excellent.

First of all, this scene is the first starkly lit scene, in harsh daylight

tones. She stands perfectly still (just as Julian was seated) at the check-in

counter of a hotel. The receptionist informs her that her room will not be

ready until four. Instead of arguing, Crystal calmly and coldly tells her she

will speak with the manager. When he arrives, she says, ďI have just traveled ten thousand miles to see the corpse of my

first-born son. I havenít slept in thirty hours. And this bitch says I canít

have my room
.Ē The next shot is her in her room.

Kristin Scott Thomas is

always excellent, and in this film we see something new from her. It took me a

moment to even recognize her.

Julian questions the man

who killed his brother, asking who hired him. Interestingly, we donít hear the

manís response, but rather the filmís score. And we see Julianís reaction. It

isnít until later when Julian talks with his mother that we learn he let the

man go. Crystal is angry with Julian, and tells him sheíll take care of the

killer herself. She demands a kiss, and Julian kisses her on the cheek, then

lights her cigarette. Itís a really uncomfortable moment, made even more so

when she strokes his arm with one finger, Julianís face turned away from camera

and away from her. Because he is faced away from us, we can only imagine what

he is feeling, which puts us more firmly in his uncomfortable place.

This film is so adept at

that. It also lets us in on a characterís thoughts by cutting from one

character to another character who may not be present, but whose presence is

felt clearly and intensely. This is done at times with the cop who becomes entangled

in the lives of Julian and Crystal.  That

character, in fact, is one of the most interesting in any film Iíve seen in a

while. There is something mystical about him. He seems apart from the law,

though with the complete support and respect of the other policemen.

By the way, at times this

film is absolutely gorgeous. Though it doesnít refrain from being brutal too.

There is at least one intensely gruesome scene. Sure, there are a few awkward

moments, like when Julian asks the cop, ďWanna

Ē But most of this film is completely engrossing.

Only God Forgives was written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn,

who also directed Drive.

Bonus Features

The DVD contains lots of

bonus material, including a commentary track by writer/director Nicolas Winding

Refn, moderated by Damon Wise. Refn describes Drive as good cocaine, and Only

God Forgives
as strong acid. He talks about the filmís imagery, and about

the casting of Kristin Scott Thomas. He says that he told her he wanted to use

her because she had done Four Weddings

And A Funeral
, and that it was her idea to have long blond hair in the


There are also two short

interviews with the director. In the first, he talks about finding locations

and not having to build any sets. He also talks about the mentality of Asia,

and he admits to a supernatural element to the film regarding Chang (the cop

character). In the second interview, he says the first idea regarding this film

was a man looking at his hands. He also says that originally there was going to

be a lot more dialogue. Interestingly, he says, ďI always wanted to make important films, but I realized I didnít have

that in me
.Ē Each of these interviews is approximately six minutes.

The bonus material

includes a good amount of behind-the-scenes footage (approximately twenty-three

minutes worth). We see the Refn giving direction to the actors regarding the

drug deal scene, and also some footage of the shooting of exterior shots. They

were right at the edge of a street, and not holding traffic. We also see Refn

setting up the shots for the gunfight scene. One thing I appreciate about this

footage is that they just let it play, without heavily editing it, so you feel

youíre really getting a sense of what the production was like.

There is also a segment

on the music of the film, with an interview with composer Cliff Martinez. He

talks about how Refn places more significance on music and sound than other

directors do, and how in a way Only God

is almost a silent film. The most interesting thing for me is his

explanation of the scene where Billyís killer talks to Julian but we donít hear

the dialogue. Apparently, that was not intended. The actor kept mispronouncing

words, and so they couldnít use the dialogue, and the director had to rely on

Martinez to tell the story with music. (Interestingly, his explanation is a bit

different from that which the director gives in the commentary.) This segment

is approximately nine minutes.

Only God Forgives was released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 22,

2013 through Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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