'Only God Forgives' review: Question what you've heard

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins address two highly talkable movies, one that's being overrated and another that's being underrated.

**** (out of four)

When Quentin Tarantino delivers a violent cartoon like (the highly entertaining) “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” no one bats an eye. “Sure, chop off as many limbs as you want,” viewers think. “We’re all just kidding around.”

Yet when a filmmaker depicts the ugliness of brutal violence, people reject it. Starring Ryan Gosling in another collaboration with director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive,” 2011’s best movie), “Only God Forgives” was widely loathed at the Cannes Film Festival. This strikes me as the knee-jerk reactions of tired festgoers unwilling or unable to separate a steady, purposeful study of violence’s mystery and emptiness from a dull, unpleasant excuse to watch arms chopped and throats slashed.

The viciousness in “Only God Forgives” is punishing, but it’s also almost always punishment. Gosling has few lines but considerable opportunity to depict loneliness in his face as Julian, an American who deals drugs in Bangkok—note: the setting makes local shenanigans seem a lot less fun/exotic than the underrated “The Hangover: Part II”—but doesn’t even register an expression while watching his favored prostitute (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) pleasure herself. He’s escaped from a terrible past into a terrible present, surrounded by merciless criminals and an awful older brother in Billy (Tom Burke), who begins a deadly sequence (which quickly includes his own gruesome end) after raping and killing a 16-year-old girl. Upon hearing what her late, preferred son did, Julian and Billy’s appalling mom (Kristin Scott Thomas, an inspired choice) says, “I’m sure he had his reasons.”

The line’s meant to be funny and shocking. Throughout “Only God Forgives,” Refn (who wrote the script) considers the concept of what it even means for people to get what they deserve. The filmmaker’s slow movement down ominous hallways and nightmare-like atmosphere recall “The Shining”; in many ways “Only God Forgives” is a horror story about the hideous things people say and do and the cyclical nature of revenge that would be comical if the actions weren’t so difficult to watch.

Those willing to give the film a chance should find Refn’s compositions consistently striking. He uses no more dialogue than he needs and again makes great use of a Cliff Martinez (“Drive,” “Spring Breakers”) score. The filmmaker offers no answers, only haunting questions: What drives people like this, and could any happy ending really be considered happy?

Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an endlessly cruel cop who’s not without a sense of priority, demonstrates a love of family and singing as Refn questions our perception of someone who does what he does. He wants us to recognize the extremeness in “Only God Forgives” and feel like the innocent women Chang tells to close their eyes while he unleashes something nasty: They look away, but it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And they still hear the screams.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

CHICAGO
News Coverage on Louis Prima - CTNow
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Louis Prima

A collection of news and information related to Louis Prima published by this site and its partners.

Top Louis Prima Articles see all

Displaying items 1-5
  • Human Lard Dog to play in Sellersville

     
    The most unusually named children’s performer you have probably ever heard of will make his area debut at Sellersville Theater’s family series at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Human Lard Dog, also known as New York musician Steven Erdman, will perform catchy original m
  • The National WWII Museum showcases tales of terror and bravery

    The National WWII Museum showcases tales of terror and bravery
    NEW ORLEANS - Marine Lt. Leonard Isaaks Jr. was killed on Feb. 20, 1945, during the battle for the Japanese island Iwo Jima. All you really need to know about his death is contained in the painstakingly printed letter found on his body: Dear Daddy,...

    Layered with love

    Layered with love
    My father, a former engineer, looks at the tape measure, scowls and keeps rolling the dough. My mother starts picking at it, which draws more scowling. There's a tension in the room. Perhaps the new dough recipe should have been tested before being handed...

    Relive The Music Of Louis Prima

    Relive The Music Of Louis Prima
    There's a new act playing at the Stage Door Canteen in the CBD that should be perfect for date night. Vanessa Bolano has more. New Orleans' own Louis Prima has been gone over 30 years, but his energy and music are now bouncing off the walls of the WWII...

    Throwing a rope over Western swing's return

    Throwing a rope over Western swing's return
    Bruce Forman, widely recognized as one of the top jazz guitarists in the world, has gotten off the straight-ahead path in recent years to follow what seems at first a highly unlikely alternate route: Western swing. Essentially a musical curiosity or...