Film review: Only God Forgives - Ryan Gosling's Bangkok bloodfest is a hellish bore

1.00

(18)

Ryan Gosling has apparently decided that being a star means you don't have to act anymore, you can just stand there looking moody. In his new film he has reunited with director Nicolas Winding Refn, who gave him the coolest role of his career as the wheelman of Drive. Gosling's performance was pretty laconic – he just stared most of the time – but the film itself zipped along quite nicely in his slipstream.

In Only God Forgives, he's gone from laconic almost to catatonic, his expression one of unchanging poker-faced blankness, and the drama follows suit with lead-boots heaviness. In the long pauses his character leaves between lines you may find some useful catch-up time. I thought about what books I'd pack for my holiday, but you could also plan out those emails, tweets and epic poems you've been meaning to write.

The film is set in Bangkok, bathed in a nocturnal crimson glow, as if we were peering at it through a thin tomato soup. Gosling plays Julian, owner of a kick-boxing gym that's a front for his drug-dealing business. The film isn't 10 minutes old before his older brother (Tom Burke) has murdered a prostitute and been killed in turn by the girl's father.

This revenge has been connived at by a police chief named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) who's got a funny walk and carries a big sword at his back – you worry when he pulls it out that he might do himself a mischief. He also moonlights as Singing Detective at a nightclub, watched impassively by his colleagues. Julian seems nonplussed by him, but then he's nonplussed by his girlfriend Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) too, preferring to watch her pleasure herself rather than do the job himself. Maybe he's in the grip of a terminal laziness.

Refn appears to be aiming for a Blue Velvet-ish mixture of menace and disconnection, but David Lynch was never this solemn, or this humourless. The electronic score (by Cliff Martinez) recalls the stylish propulsion of Drive, only this time Refn won't get out of first gear. In between the vicious loppings and skewerings performed by Chang the swordsman, the film moves so ponderously you fear it might snail to a standstill.

What partially rescues it, and provides the only reason for seeing it, is the arrival of Julian's mother, a foul-mouthed Fury with kohl-black eyes and flowing platinum locks. Imagine Donatella Versace crossed with Anjelica Huston in The Grifters and you're getting there.

Mom's first meeting with Julian's girlfriend gives the film an obscene jolt of energy, but there's an even better surprise: she's played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Her characters have often conveyed the impression of liking their steak bloody, but they've usually come garnished with sides of Anglo-French brittleness and hauteur. Here, Scott Thomas is an American monster of pure appetite, and she tears up the screen with it. It could be her answer to Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.

The shame of it is that she's entirely wasted on the film. Only God Forgives proceeds at its drip-drip pace apparently under the illusion that it's got Major Themes to peddle. Director Refn has said that the original concept was to make "a movie about a man who wants to fight God". All I saw was a movie in which a man fights a cop and gets his ass kicked.

Strip away the noirish lighting and the high-end production design and you have a boring revenge melodrama without character development, emotional impact or moral nuance. If your idea of fun is watching Ryan Gosling sleepwalk through Bangkok, then this could be for you. But take something along to occupy the hellish longueurs in between.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape