Only God Forgive is about Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.
What still puzzles me about this movie is the reception of it at Cannes this year. It was booed, and critics almost unanimously called it the worst movie of the festival. Surely, I did not have a chance to see Blue Is the Warmest Colour, the absolute winner this year which received an impressive amount of accolades and seals of approval from everyone. But the more I think of the movie, the more I see its ingenuity and, simply put, greatness.
Only God Forgives is a disturbing, slow and dark film, a direct heir to brilliant Drive of 2011 made by the same director, Nicolas Winding Refn. If Drive was trying to pay homage to the style and spirit of 80s, Only God Forgives is much bigger and ambitious. Not only it is an evolution of style over Drive – now it looks, feels and sounds like 90s – it takes it simply to new levels, adding the personal touch of Refn to already refined formula.
The movie is simply stunning. In the era of shaky cameras and weird colouring schemes, brutal simplicity of cinematography feels like a revelation. Every frame is a photograph, carefully crafted and to be admired both in the movie and as a standalone static picture. Slow movement camera, relaxed switches between angles and perfect positioning of actors on the screen add to the perfect geometry and style of the movie. The last time I saw these beautifully crafted frames was Melancholia by Lars von Trier, and even there the most beauty comes from the opening sequence. Light is another matter. Very ascetic, but powerful and stylish, it brings the simplicity of camerawork to the next level by making it more real – and much more believable.
Next, onto music. Written by Cliff Martinez, it matches the movie even better than Hans Zimmer’s matched Inception. It is perfect in the movie; it is suitable for listening as a standalone soundtrack. Stylish and dark most of the time, it is diluted by slow and relaxed songs like Tur Kue Kwam Fun.
And then there is the plot. On the surface, it is a story about a rotten mafia family, with some deeply damaged relations between mother and sons. It is a story of revenge and justice, a mafia story set in Bangkok. It is an ultraviolent sequence of events, where violence does not really stem from the actions that are carried out, but rather from the slowness. Ears are cut off and eyes are pricked so slowly that it is impossible not to feel the pain.
But the more you think about it, the more multi-layered the story becomes. Damaged kid who is unable to love trying to find solace; damaged mother trying to set things right; God bringing justice and mercy onto people. Finally, it is a story about a man who decided to fight God. It is a minimalistic story, much resembling Drive and Valhalla Rising in terms of lack of words that come out of mouth of the main character. The story is brilliantly built and paced, the climax arrives as a resounding peak of a storyline and the finale is a relief and a reflection on the whole movie at the same time.
Given the strength of the plot, it was an absolute delight to watch the actors perform. No Carey Mulligan this time, which I think is a massive plus. Ryan Gosling pulls off the most impressive and complicated performance he ever attempted; given that his character is practically speechless, he had to convey the message purely by facial expressions and movements, and he perfectly succeeded. Kristin Scott Thomas is incredible as Crystal, dangerous and appealing at the same time. Vithaya Pansringarm had the task of bringing clues to all the hidden meanings of the film, and I think he succeeded.
This is the perfect film in all aspects; masterpiece; one to re-watch. Definitely the best movie of the year so far and the one I hope will be able to prove Cannes critics wrong and receive Oscars – because it deserves it.