I was very sad that this movie was not in theaters where I lived. Luckily, it is on iTunes to watch. Only God Forgives follows the story of Julian, a kingpin in Bangkok, and the Angel of Vengeance, a police officer on a path to make everything right with his city. This film can be amazing at times with cinematography and action sequences, but it can also be very difficult to follow.
As acting goes in this film, it isn't the best, but the right people pull their weight. Ryan Gosling does his broody, very minimal dialogue acting. All the minor characters act their very best, and Vithaya Pansringarm is absolutely amazing in this film. Kristin Scott Thomas was the only person who could not act for her life. She was robotic at times and seemed not to trust what the director wanted. Her emotions fluctuated and it felt rather unnecessary and off putting for her character. The true star of this film is Vithaya Pansringarm. He is as mysterious as his character. For being the Angel of Vengeance, there are no true emotions shown through him, even after something tragic happens to his family. Sadly, there are not a lot of emotions shown in this film, so you don't know what the characters are really thinking. They say the lines, do what the director says and move onto the next scene.
The movie suffers from not spreading itself out. The audience goes from one scene to the next with minimal or no information on how the characters got there. Plot holes build up and we wonder what is happening. Explaining it, this film is one large nightmare. In nightmares you don't experience every aspect, only the parts that stand out. This film follows in the footsteps of a nightmare. With a lot of red lighting, night sequences, and many surreal moments. The only explanation is that we are watching a nightmare unfold. Who's nightmare? It could be explained in both Ryan Gosling's character or Vithaya's character. They each experience their own nightmares. This movie is all about dissection. Sadly, again, there are no explanations for what happens in the film and that's where it suffers.
Being a filmmaker, this film is beautifully shot and edited amazingly. The contrasting colors make for interesting shots and there is a lot of red in this film. Not blood, just the color red is prominent in this film. Nicholas Refn has instilled a vision so clear in his mind that when put on screen the audience doesn't get the full vision. This is a true fact of how not to follow a vision. This director created something that he saw in his head and forgot about the audience. He made this movie for himself. Sure, it's selfish, but there are many visions that directors have and they can't follow that selfishness. I'm somewhat glad that Refn got a chance to create the film he wanted.
Lastly, the violence. I don't know how people walked out of this movie due to the impact of its violence. There are many violent moments in this film, and some are more graphic than you'd think, but not to walk out of the film. The violence is all implied. For example, there is a torture scene where Pansringarm's character uses different pointed objects to get information out of one of Gosling's colleagues. The objects go through the arms, legs, eyes and eventually an ear. It is brutal, but it is not graphic. We see some blood, but it is the implication of what is happening that makes you freak out while watching. The best action sequence - no-spoilers - was when Pansringarm's character and Gosling's character get into a Muay Thai brawl in the middle of Julian's boxing building. With the beat of thrilling electronic music and the quickness of each character, you can't help but be taken away by the reality of the fight. Trivia: Ryan Gosling actually learned Muay Thai for this film.
Overall, I loved this film for its unique style, symbolism, violence, and storyline. However, the director tried too hard to make this film feel like a nightmare, left many plot points out and gave the film inconsistent pacing with dream sequences and reality.
Good Qualities: Visionary film, beautiful cinematography, great action sequences.
Bad Qualities: Hard to follow, many plot holes, not much character development.
NOTE: I will probably do a longer Only God Forgives article regarding the symbolism.