I also wrote a review on Only God Forgives (what a beautiful film!) for The Newspaper which is a student paper at my university. Let me hear your opinion either on the review or the film or both!
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Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film sparked controversy at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The critical reception of Only God Forgives was accompanied by dissatisfaction and booing from one side and with praises from the other. This time Winding Refn’s piece is set in the exotic and deadly streets of Thailand where a confused and undetermined protagonist Julian (Ryan Gosling) tries to find his way in the midst of an emotionally imbalanced family that has built its fortune on the shaky foundations of drug smuggling.
Only God Forgives is an artistic experiment. With its stark contrasting colours, shadows, gorgeous compositions and fascinating locations, the film presents itself as a visually stunning piece. Granted, if you are a fan of storytelling, Only God Forgives might not be the film of choice mainly because the story is fragmented. On the surface, the film seems like a compilation of unmotivated brutality and gore but at the very core of it lies a story of revenge and justice. However, since rarely stories are so black and white, the film can be interpreted in multiple ways. Although the brutal events seem to be initiated by Billy’s (Tom Burke) death, the film constantly plays on the idea that there are more layers and other explanations. And so it becomes hard to escape the thought that Julian and Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) share a deeper history.
The director definitely concerned himself with the visual aspect and the cinematography over the storytelling. But like any art film, it seems that Only God Forgives invites the viewer to construct their own interpretation of the events. One of the bigger questions being: how much of what we witness is reality and how much is a product of Julian’s mind? A lot is left unanswered and as much is left for speculation.
Here also lies the beauty—the spectator can participate in the construction of the story and there will be as many unique interpretations as there are viewers. The fragmented events that occasionally miss either explanations or motivations, or both, do not suggest a bad film. What we are presented with is instead different—un-Hollywood—and that is why it works. Clearly Winding Refn didn’t seem to concern himself with the audience and their softness or sensitivity. He had a vision and he transformed that vision onto the screen.
The ever-so-stunning Kristen Scott Thomas never disappoints. Playing your typical rich and arrogant American blonde, she brings the character to life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Ryan Gosling. His character obviously looks handsome but that is pretty much it. Julian lacks any kind of depth. The viewer gets to witness only a slight variation between the states of sadness and emotional deadness. A disappointing role for an obviously strong actor with such good past performances as Half Nelson and The Notebook.
Overall, this feature is not for the light-hearted, as you might’ve guessed from the sensitive and fancy folks at Cannes. There will be blood and brutality and ruthlessness—visuals that will make you cringe and actually feel something. With Only God Forgives, Winding Refn showcases his talent as it takes some skill to make every shot look like a loaded photograph. One can argue that the best films are the ones that create a clear division in the audience—you either hate it or love it. This one is definitely worthy of love.