Nov. 2, 2013
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
fight?Ē But most of this film is completely engrossing.
Only God Forgives was written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn,
who also directed Drive.
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
Forgives 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.