Film review: Only God Forgives (18)

Ryan Gosling pulls no punches in his latest thriller

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The Independent Culture

Having seemed to strip the thriller back to its barest essential elements in their highly stylised 2011 film Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling go one further.

Only God Forgives is a revenge drama without any drama. Instead of what you'd normally call a plot, it has a grisly chain of events into which characters who are little more than mannequins are powerless to intervene. And if you thought that the unnamed driver Gosling played in Drive was impassive and laconic, he's like a Woody Allen character compared to Julien.

Julien is an American who runs a kickboxing club in Bangkok with his brother Billy (Tom Burke), as a front for their mother's drug-smuggling operation. When Billy is killed, the mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) turns up to demand retribution. Julien explains the situation: "Billy raped and killed a 16-year-old girl." And in a line that pretty much sums up the film's attitude to character motivation, she replies: "I'm sure he had his reasons."

Meanwhile, dishing out retribution of his own is a local cop played by Vithaya Pansringarm; an angel of death with a samurai sword. There are karaoke scenes to remind you of David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and ominous tracking shots along hotel corridors that are positively Kubrickian.

The whole film feels like a dream sequence; a woozy, neon-dipped vision of hell where constraints on morality and narrative logic are equally loosened. Judged purely as an exercise in cinematic high-style, it is an unqualified success. But it is almost literally soulless.