Only God Forgives
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It’s pretty clear that Hollywood has fallen head over heels in love with Ryan Gosling (much like about half of the world’s female population). For the charming Oscar-nominated star’s latest edgy crime thriller, Only God Forgives, he reteams with Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn, who appears to be so in love with Gosling that he forgot to tell most of the story.

Here’s the gist of it: Gosling’s Julian and his older brother, Billy (Tom Burke) have made a comfortable life for themselves in Bangkok on boxing and drugs. But when Billy’s indulgence goes too far and gets him killed, Julian is left to deal with the consequences.

Julian’s quiet, lonely life is interrupted by a visit from his brash and aggressive mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who demands justice for her favorite son. But after she orders the death of the man who killed Billy, she discovers that his murder was more than just a random act of violence.

Gritty films like Drive and Bronson have made Refn an art-house darling. The Danish director has become well-known for telling quietly suspenseful stories while mixing in shocking bursts of bloody violence. But while Bronson was fascinating and Drive was intriguing, Only God Forgives is just plain perplexing.

In Only God Forgives, it appears as though Refn has gotten a little too caught up in his own minimalism and artiness—not to mention his charming star. There’s no denying that the film was artistically directed. Refn bathes each dark, shadowy scene in bold reds and yellows and blues for a look that’s certainly arresting. And it’s no surprise that the film has its share of shocking violence—including a stomach-turning torture scene that will cause all but the most callous viewers to look away.

The story, however, is a mystery—not because it follows the characters as they try to determine the killer’s identity but because you’ll spend the entire time trying to figure out what’s going on. Nothing here is developed—and since there’s very little dialogue, there are very few hints to help you get a feel for the characters or their story.

In the end, then, you’re left with just a whole lot of Ryan Gosling. Ryan Gosling looking thoughtful. Ryan Gosling looking troubled. Ryan Gosling sitting by himself in a club, watching a lethargic dancer. He doesn’t say much. In fact, he rarely says anything at all. And, after spending 90 minutes staring at a silent Ryan Gosling while some kind of slow and bewildering revenge story plays out around him, you’ll come to the realization that—no matter how much you love Ryan Gosling, his chiseled abs, and his boyish good looks—the dreamy star just isn’t enough to keep you mesmerized through an entire film.

Only God Forgives is Refn’s signature minimalism taken to extremes. It’s a striking film with a striking star, but the story gets lost somewhere in the long, loving shots of its handsome hero. It’s interesting to look at, but that’s just not enough to make it worth 90 minutes of your time.

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