By Oliver Gettell
8:00 AM CDT, July 19, 2013
"Only God Forgives" — film critics sure don't. Not in the case of writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn's new art house revenge flick starring Ryan Gosling as a fugitive gangster in Bangkok.
Unlike Refn and Gosling's previous collaboration, the well-received neo-noir thriller "Drive," "Only God Forgives" is notching mostly poor reviews, with many critics deriding it as overstylized and empty.
The Los Angeles Times' own Betsy Sharkey says Refn's "latest theater of the macabre is brutal, bloody, saturated with revenge, sex and death, yet stunningly devoid of meaning, purpose, emotion or decent lighting." Much of the fault lies with Refn's script, which "has a plot filled with dead ends, dead giveaways and too many characters."
Sharkey adds that Gosling, "so effective and affecting as the nearly silent stunt driver [in 'Drive'], has never been less dimensional." And co-star Kristin Scott Thomas, playing Gosling's dragon-lady mother, "moves through the film in such ludicrous ways that the usually excellent [actress] is uncharacteristically unbelievable in the role."
The New York Times' Stephen Holden calls "Only God Forgives" a "blood-drenched, nihilistic reverie" and a "corpse of a movie." Gosling is "unable to give his automaton any suggestion of an inner life" and drifts along "as if in a slow-motion trance." Holden goes on to say: "The movie is so devoid of emotion that its ritualized gore acts as a narcotic"; he sums things up in three words: "pretentious macho nonsense."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune calls the film a "pretty little bore" and adds, "This is the worst, least, dumbest picture made by people of talent this year, although Kristin Scott Thomas has fun." Refn "adores the glacial, creeping anticipation of gorgeous splatter to come. And that's all he's good for: benumbed dread, all dressed up with no place to go." Phillips is also one of many critics to say the film drags: "The movie runs 89 minutes. It feels a tad longer."
The Associated Press' Jocelyn Noveck similarly writes: "once you get past [the movie's] slick veneer, you may find yourself looking at your watch, even though it clocks in at a concise 89 minutes." The "biggest surprise and disappointment" of the film, Noveck says, is that it's boring. On the plus side, "Refn's fans will be happy with the look and texture" of the film, and "it's delicious to see [Thomas] sink her teeth into something so off-type."
Variety's Peter Debruge writes: "The wallpaper emotes more than Ryan Gosling does in 'Only God Forgives,' an exercise in supreme style and minimal substance." He goes on to say: "As hyper-aggressive revenge fantasies go, it’s curious to see one so devoid of feeling."
In one of the more merciful reviews, David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter concedes that the film "has way more style than subtext," but says genre fans probably won't mind. There's "impeccably composed camerawork," striking production design, fluid editing and "a richly textured score," Rooney says, and while the film "could be accused of shallowness and lack of psychological complexity, for the target audience, it will be wicked cool entertainment."
Perhaps it's not only God who forgives after all.
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