Pitch-black and hard to like

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

SAV­AGE and stylish, Only God For­gives raises far more ques­tions than it an­swers. The re-team­ing of writer-di­rec­tor Ni­co­las Wind­ing Refn and star Ryan Gosling (the pair’s last col­lab­o­ra­tion was the 2011 hip­ster hit Drive), this Bangkok-set tale of grue­some vi­o­lence, a mon­strous Oedi­pal com­plex and an ex­is­ten­tial dread wor­thy of Ing­mar Bergman un­spools in enig­matic fash­ion.

Refn gets max­i­mum mileage out of Gosling’s mar­quee-ready mug, and his star’s will­ing­ness to bloody said face, as well as a scabrous comic turn by Kristin Scott Thomas as a mother only Joan Craw­ford could love.

Gosling stars as Ju­lian, a low-level drug dealer who also dab­bles in Muay Thai boxing. His brother, Billy (Tom Burke), is bru­tally mur­dered one night in re­tal­i­a­tion for Billy’s rape and mur­der of a 16-year-old pros­ti­tute.

In­censed by the killing, the boys’ mother, Crys­tal (Scott Thomas), ar­rives in Bangkok to prod Ju­lian into set­tling the score. In do­ing so, Ju­lian crosses paths with the silent, lethal en­forcer Chang (Vithaya Pan­sringarm).

It’s a whis­per-thin plot, and one which feels stretched out like taffy over the course of For­gives’ plod­ding 90 min­utes. De­spite luscious cin­e­matog­ra­phy from Larry Smith and a hyp­notic score from Cliff Martinez, Only God For­gives of­ten feels like a hy­per­vi­o­lent fever dream – Takashi Mi­ike by way of David Lynch. Part of the frus­tra­tion stems from Refn’s pud­dledeep screen­play; there’s a ten­dency to read into things, a de­sire for there to be more to the im­ages on­screen than what ap­pears.

It’s un­clear ex­actly what Refn’s try­ing to con­vey.

None of the char­ac­ters are par­tic­u­larly lo­qua­cious – Scott Thomas has a mem­o­rably pro­fane mono­logue about halfway through; she seems to be hav­ing more fun than any­one – and this uni­form ret­i­cence only makes the film, which ends on an am­bigu­ous note, more opaque.

At times dif­fi­cult to watch yet lovely to be­hold, Refn has made a film easy to ad­mire, tough to parse and al­most im­pos­si­ble to en­joy.

– PRE­STON JONES

Only God For­gives opens to­day.

Ryan Gosling

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