While it’s the success of Drive that will stoke most interest in this director/star reunion (drenched like its forebear in slick neon, and with Ryan Gosling reprising his moody anti-performance), it’s to Nicolas Winding Refn’s earlier work that Only God Forgives speaks loudest. A Bangkok-set tale of terrible crimes and horrific punishments, its oneiric odyssey closely compares with hellish Viking drama Valhalla Rising (right down to the prophesying interludes), while its pervasively bleak view of human nature harks back to calling-card works like Bleeder.
Step back and survey its surfaces, however, and Only God Forgives
appears very much its own beast. Every frame is meticulously designed,
with slats of darkness and throbbing reds shading every grim motel and
midnight city street a diabolical hue, working with Cliff Martinez’s
creeping score to maximise this violent saga’s impact. Unfortunately, surfaces are about all the film has to offer.
Ponderous dialogue swerves into self-parody, while frequent scenes of
dismemberment and suchlike bore rather than appall, making it difficult
to care who slices who in its escalating litany of ultra-violence. Its
visceral visions are too stylishly realised for Only God Forgives to go down as an abject failure, but it comes disappointingly close.
[written for The Skinny]