Arielrocks5’s review published on Letterboxd :
I expected to hate this. Everyone said I was going to hate it. I guess everyone, including myself, were wrong.
"Only God Forgives" is one of those movies that if you hate, you simply didn't get it. Or if you love, you're labeled a pretentious idiot reading into something that isn't there. At least from what I've heard personally around the web. When it comes to subtext, again, I'm not exactly the best one to read into it.
Mostly down to the fact that I find it hard to context with some forms of this sub genre of visual subversion of typical storytelling because of pure emotional response and gain. See, I can talk to you about a Kaufman or Thomas Anderson movie for hours because of the emotional bond I can create with their characters and find meaning within them.
With something like say, "Under The Skin", I feel as if I'm a ghost over the shoulder of these people rather than actually engaging with them. (Though, admittedly I'm planning on giving that film another shot)
Now we have "Only God Forgives", which does fall into the latter category rather than the former, yet I can't lie, the thing that kept me engaged wasn't necessarily the story and characters, but the way the film presents itself. Yes, this is pretty much at face value self indulgent fluff, but at least it's nicely crafted self indulgent fluff.
Refn directs and frames each frame like an painter, swiftly brushing around the colors and themes to make his vision of Bangkok come to life with pure neon and synth. It's really exactly what I expected it to be, and yet what surprised me was how it kept my attention throughout the entire run time when I expected to be pissed off or bored or both.
Granted, I do have issues such as most of the acting being pretty awkward and a couple of the more violent scenes being pretty weightless (That shootout could have used a bit more carnage but that's just me), but when it actually DOES show off how brutal it can really get, it's the stuff of nightmares.
In some cases, "Only God Forgives" is sorta like a nightmare, what with all the gory depictions of people in horrible pain, the over saturation of dark reds and blues, and the fact that there seems to be no real direction to where scenes are suppose to begin and end.
It's a film that creates its own world and thoroughly embraces it with no real sign of snapping out of it to tell the viewer what exactly it is that they're watching.
It's like Refn came into a room full of people with a box of donuts only for him, then one by one he starts to share a bit.
One hates the taste and wonders what the hell is wrong with him; The other is confused by it and wonders what kind of befit he gets from it in the long run; And another loves it and asks for more but knows that they probably won't get any so they take what they can get.
Does that make sense? I guess it does. But it's really all up to you to make sense of it. Much like what Refn is doing here. So in this Doughnut scenario I've created, this film would be like if he had those same Donuts, the same people, but instead of giving them out, he places them in the middle of the room, then leaves for an hour and a half before coming back.
Once he returns, he then takes the box, asks them what they thought, probably says "FUCK YOU" to the people who didn't get it and were expecting something else, throws a cream filled one into their faces, then leaves.
.....my mind wonders off to strange places when writing about films like this.
But anyway, back to the film itself. In the long run, the film is about whatever you think it might be. Sure it can be seen as pretentious, style over substance, deep, meaningful, whatever. It all depends on the viewer. Really, isn't that the joy of most films? And much like I said in my "The Revenant" review, I'm usually on the side that can understand both haves of the same cone.
My own idea of what the movie means? Well, it's hard to say. Yet, there's one scene that stood out to me among the many others; the scene where Julian (Ryan Gosling) snaps at Mai. Throughout the entire film, he's very calm, in control of his surroundings, never seeming to break away into pure emotion. But once Mai won't do exactly what he wants after dealing with his mother ridiculing the two of them over dinner, he finally yells "TAKE IT OFF" at her.
He finally breaks. Only for a minute. And once this happens, those who were willing to be engaged within the scene are just as terrified as Mai is. Because we've already seen what this guy can do to people, and, for lack of a better choice of words, we don't want to see this guy angry. As for the whole thing about Gosling not having much to say throughout the run time, honestly I think it works since unlike his performance in "Drive", where he looks like a Pouty teenager, it works because he is supposed to be that since he's always under control of someone and has to take some form of order be it from the mob or his mother
Speaking of her, OOOOOFFFF!!! I may have said that most of the performances in this were pretty awkward, but she's truly the stand out among them. Calm, manipulative, willing to lash out at any moment, and indeed does. Some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth is pretty damn hurtful, and for me, made some of the highlights of the film. (Such as the dinner scene).
Hurtful is another word that best describes this film. It's hurtful for those not willing to give into the world and style, and it's hurtful to the people who happen to be in this world, with scenes of people getting stabbed, cut, shot, beaten, and so much. As I said, some of these are fairly weightless, but other times (Such as one scene involving an interrogation to find out who sent the hit out) it can be some of the most genuinely unnerving pieces of cinema ever filmed.
And the music? Pure ear candy. Cliff Martinez's score adds an underlying tension to each frame that makes it all the more uncomfortable to watch a good amount of the time....
It's weird. I didn't expect much out of this and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though it does have it's fair share of rough patches, and certainly isn't for everyone, "Only God Forgives" does offer enough to pull it above other attempts at this form of style with refreshingly, a sense of self awareness.
Maybe I should give "Drive" another shot......we'll just have to wait and see. But for now, "It's time to meet the devil....."