Ever since 2011’s Drive arrived on the scene and became the modern-day classic with its flashes of extreme violence, 80’s synth pop soundtrack and Ryan Gosling staring intently into the camera, expectations has been high some what for Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up with its star. Only God Forgives is a different beast from Drive entirely that is much darker. In fact it is so dark that it wasn’t for all the red neon it wouldn’t be visible.
Refn has made a film that will divide opinions. Those wanting a to see something akin to his last collaboration with Gosling will be left feeling disappointed, regardless of the beautiful cinematography by Larry Smith and the excellent Cliff Martinez score. Here Refn steps away from the mainstream elements of Drive, focusing on the mood and atmosphere rather than a solid narrative while gleefully playing with the expectations audiences may have the the macho image that “The Man with No Name” image that Gosling’s Driver had as he stares at things some more. The film follows Julian (Gosling), a drug smuggler in Bangkok who owns a boxing club. When his brother gets killed as a result of an unjustifiable action, looks for who’s responsible. Julian maybe the lead character in the film but the true leading man is Vithaya Pansringarm who’s a high-ranking police officer that dishes justice as he sees fit, usually with a sword followed by some karaoke. Without saying a word he has true presence as he drifts along the screen like a high-powered being. Kristin Scott Thomas is fantastic as Julian’s twisted mother who is completely ruthless in wanting revenge for her son’s death. the film kicks in a gear from the moment she enters the film.
Julian himself is the real weak link. Not that Gosling is bad in the role, in the that his character is an empty vessel that spends most of the film reacting to everything around him without being sure of anything himself. It’s a shame because his character is central to the story so with everything around him is so masterfully crafted, by the end what you really need his a beating heart and that is something that just isn’t there..