Review: Only God Forgives
The Pitch: Bangkok (Armed And) Dangerous.
Review Transcript Taken From A Focus Group Conducted Prior To The Making Of The Film:
[TRANSCRIPT BEGINS] “So, Mr. [CENSORED], thank you for taking the time to respond for this focus group. The makers of this new film would like to thank you for your time. So, I understand you’ve just seen Drive, which was Mr. Winding Refn’s previous film, and I’m just looking through your feedback form… So you liked Ryan Gosling and his performance, although you feel he was a little silent and broody at times… You liked the casting of the female roles as well, so that was Carey Mulligan and Christina Hendricks, although you felt that maybe they were portrayed as overly vulnerable? OK… You liked the setting and felt there was a strong story, and you felt that Albert Brooks made for a strong portrayal of evil… Yes, he is good when he does those voices on The Simpsons… (laughter)… You felt that overall the movie was very stylish, and wondered where you can get one of those scorpion jackets? I normally go on eBay for things like that… You thought the violence was a bit much at times… And the other thing you picked out was the score… Yes, the score was by Cliff Martinez… Yes, he’s done a few Steven Soderbergh films in the past… Yes, I know, it’s a shame he’s retired… (pause)… No, Soderbergh…
“So, thank you for your feedback, and… the new film? Oh, OK, I’m not sure how much I can tell you for now… Well, it’s called Only God Forgives, and it’s set in the seedy Bangkok underworld, amid drugs and prostitution… Yes, no, I’ve been to Bangkok too and I thought it was lovely as well, although I stayed away from some of the bars late at night… What else? Well, it’s the story of two brothers, one of whom commits a terrible sin and then ends up being punished for his crimes, and then the other brother is dragged into a bitter battle of revenge by his mother. There’s also a policeman, who comes in to investigate when the brutality starts, and becomes embroiled in the battle for the family’s revenge… Yes, it all sounds quite action packed, doesn’t it, although I think I should warn you it might turn out to be a little different to Drive…
“Yes, there are some elements which get carried over… Ryan Gosling will be back after Luke Evans dropped out… It’s a bit of a different role for Gosling this time… Yes, he will be quite broody, I think he’s only got seventeen lines in the whole script… Self-parody? Maybe just a bit, but that’s the risk you take when someone is as good at Ryan at sitting in the corner and smouldering… I expect there will be some different ways that gets used… I’m expecting the wardrobe will be just as sharp this time, although I think they’re looking to stay away from scorpion jackets… It’s a bit gimmicky, you’re right… You’ll be pleased to hear that Cliff Martinez is back doing the music as well… Yes, I think it could be even better than Drive… Why? Well, as there’s not much in the way of plot or dialogue in the film, it’ll be heavily reliant on the cinematography and the score… It’ll probably be deeply atmospheric… The violence? Well, Mr. Winding Refn has admitted in the past he has a bit of a fetish for violence, so I’d expect there to be more of that too and … No, I think he still means it should come out of the story organically… Yes, that might be a bit difficult if there’s not much story, but maybe it’ll make more sense when you see it… No, you’re right, maybe it won’t…
“Different? Well, there are a few things different this time… For a start, it’s set in Thailand, so the opening and closing credits are all going to be in Thai with English subtitles… There’s some stronger female characterisation, as they’ve got Kristin Scott Thomas to play the mother… Yes, she was in Four Weddings… No, she’ll be quite different here, I think what she’s going for is a sort of angry Donatella Versace meets Lady Macbeth thing… No, I think she’s intended to be the strong figure, and Gosling somewhat more submissive, or at least passive… the bad guy’s also a little different, there’s some almost mystical things going on… I understand Mr. Winding Refn’s interested in provoking strong reactions… No, I don’t think it sets out top be deliberately provocative just for the sake of it… The best way to judge these things is to watch them… What else? From what I understand, it should be quite heavy on the symbolism… Well, you’re right, you can read interpretations into just about anything, what I mean is that there’s likely to be lots of stark imagery and lots left open to interpretation, with some dream sequences and some surreal moments… Yes, some of the symbolism is sexual… No, not all of it… No, I don’t think they have a hard time keeping it up… Oh, very funny, sir… (coughs)…
“Yes, it does all sound rather different to Drive, I think that’s the point… Have you seen any of Mr. Winding Refn’s previous films, like Pusher or Bronson?… You haven’t… No, I believe Mr Winding Refn’s making films more for himself than he is for the audience… yes, yes I do, I have seen it myself… You’re right, there’s not much point in a focus group if they’ve already made the film… No, I still get paid… No, even if I wasn’t I would still defend this… Because I really loved it… Yes, it might make me a bad person… Put it this way, if Drive was a violence-tinged fairy tale with a stark and unswerving morality, then this is a perversely rigid, deliberately paced, nihilistic nightmare of gaudily patterned wallpaper and dark alleyways that subverts your expectations at every turn as it explores themes of religion, morality and even a dash of Oedipus complex, … Yes, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you can put yourself in tune with its growling cadences and bursts of ultraviolence and find the idea of a man with a magically appearing sword who sings karaoke in gaudy nightclubs perversely appealing, then you’ll be utterly hooked… Oh, OK… Just one last question I’m supposed to ask: Based on my description of Only God Forgives, do you now think you’re more likely or less likely to watch it? (long pause)… Less likely, OK, I understand… Yes, I will… No, there’s no need for language like that… Anyway, thank you for your time.” [TRANSCRIPT ENDS]
Why see it at the cinema: I had a Twitter sweepstake to see how many people would walk out – turned out to be zero at my screening, somewhat surprisingly. If you feel you can last the distance – and it’s only an hour and a half – then a dark room and some patience are the best way to absorb Only God Forgives’ pulsating rhythms and intense mood.
What about the rating? Rated 18 for strong bloody violence. Yeah, just a bit.
My cinema experience: An unexpectedly full house in an admittedly smaller screen at the Cineworld in Cambridge, the neon vibe of the film was enhanced / diminished (delete as appropriate) by yet more people on their mobiles during the screening. On the way out, comments ranged from “I was really bored” to “that was all right, I guess”. Each to their own.
The Score: 10/10
2 thoughts on “Review: Only God Forgives”
August 10, 2013 at 11:51 pm
Great review — love these types of reviews. I saw this film twice. I had to see it again because it lingered in my mind weeks after I first saw it. I loved it too.
January 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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