‘Only God Forgives’ puts Ryan Gosling in the anti-’Drive’

Ryan Gosling is actually dragging a dude, off-screen, by his mouth in this scene from "Only God Forgives." Credit: TWC Radius
Ryan Gosling is actually dragging a dude, off-screen, by his mouth in this scene from “Only God Forgives.”
Credit: TWC Radius

‘Only God Forgives’
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

With its hot pink title title fonts, lush synth score and disarming juxtapositions of extreme tenderness with ultraviolence, “Drive” is a highly pleasurable movie. There’s little that’s pleasurable about “Only God Forgives,” director Nicolas Winding Refn’s second film with Ryan Gosling. That’s not a knock. It’s by design. Their sophomore pairing is in part about the denial of satisfaction, not to mention a sluggish, hypnotic wallow in the lives of people whose desires are, to say the least, questionable.

Having played a badass so taciturn he was nearly robotic in “Drive,” Gosling is miraculously even more absent and immobile as Julian, a member of the Thai underworld who deals in boxing and drugs. Much as one can get any kind of read on him, it’s clear he doesn’t share the depravity of his even more connected brother (Tom Burke), who, clearly exhausted with normal transgressions, rapes and kills a sixteen year old girl. His pursuit for moral nadirs acts as commentary for films like this, which seek horrific acts to shock audiences.

But there’s no release. Like most of the violence, it’s off-screen. And it leads to a cycle of vengeance that brings forth both a fearsome police lieutenant (Vithaya Pansringarm), who’s fond of doing sinister karaoke, and Julian’s epithet-spouting, chain-smoking mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) to finish the job.

“God” finds Refn in the heavy style of his worst film, “Fear X,” which married an inane plot to imitations of Lynch and Kubrick. He bathes slow shots in crimson red, which wind up looking flat and artificial in HD video. Gosling does a lot of staring — in fact, he and Pansringarm seem to be in a fight for who can emote less. This eventually leads to an actual fist fight that again threatens the former’s face.

The plot, unlike “Fear X,” isn’t stupid, or not that stupid. It’s hellish, with one abuse after another. But there’s a sense of code among the characters, each one conflicting with the others. Julian, his mother and the lieutenant represent three, conflicting views on vengeance and violence, and the film watches as they bounce off eachother, till only one is left. This isn’t fun, nor should it be, and it sometimes goes too far. (A bit about Julian longing to return to the womb of his evil mother is hilariously literal.) If it continues to piss people off — and not just the regular Gosling fangirls, who will once again be put through the ringer — it at least, like its characters, has a sick kind of honor.


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