Only God Forgives 
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Running Time: 90 minutes
After the critical success of 2011’s Drive, my personal movie of the year, all eyes were focused on director Nicolas Winding Refn. What would he do to follow up his breakout hit? If you had guessed he would make a violent crime drama with incredibly sparse dialogue and a nearly non-existent plot, give yourself a hand.
Ryan Gosling once again takes the lead, this time playing Julian, a mysterious drug smuggler in the seedy Bangkok underworld. After his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered for raping and killing a young prostitute, Julian does not immediately seek vengeance. In fact, he does nothing at all. This infuriates his domineering mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who flies into Thailand with the ferocity of a Griselda Blanco. She will do whatever it takes to hunt down and kill those involved with her son’s death, and Julian is her pawn in this whether he likes it or not.
This is a simple revenge story, one that takes its sweet time getting anywhere. There is a lot of staring with no words being spoken, and characters are frequently shown to be walking in slow motion. This is “artsy” to the point of exhaustion, and those with little patience will find this a chore to sit through.
Yet there is still something resembling a good film beneath this tedium. Refn’s direction is as stylish as ever, and Bangkok comes to life with an assortment of vibrant neon colors. Many scenes are awash in blue and bright red, and the film itself is quite stunning to look at.
The performances are also memorable. While Gosling does not appear to change his facial expression even once during the entire film, Kristin Scott Thomas is a tour-de-force as the mafioso-like matriarch. Even as her character spews inappropriate diatribe about the size of her son’s genitalia, she remains convincing. Vithaya Pansringam also delivers a quite enjoyable performance as Lt. Chang, the powerful police officer who had a hand in Billy’s death. He comes across as someone who should not be messed with. At all.
Only God Forgives is a divisive film through and through. While not everything works, this is still a visual spectacle that has enough eye candy to make up for some of its weaknesses. At the very least, this further proves that Refn is a filmmaker that knows how to get people talking about his work, and he doesn’t seem to give a damn about what any of us may think.