“Drive” Was Awesome. But This Isn’t “Drive:” Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling Lose Their Minds

Review, “Only God Forgives” – 0 stars (out of ****)
Alex’s Least Favorite Movie of 2013

Released July 19, 2013
Written & Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Cinematography by Larry Smith
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Running Time: 90 soul-crushing minutes
Budget: $4.8 million
Worldwide Box Office: $10.3 million

No deity could forgive this piece of shit movie. Stupendously, mind-numbingly awful. I… I barely know what to say. Incredible. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen four of the “Twilight” movies (mostly because of girls, okay? Fuck off). You’d think that a movie with a distinctly 1980s-vibe, a lot of fight scenes and general gore, plenty of neon lighting and weird sex would be right up my alley. Well, shit, that’s what I thought too. I’m sad to report that that thought proved to be one of the great miscalculations of my life to this point.

This was supposed to be the next “Drive” (2011), a hyper-slick, highly-stylized thinking-man’s action movie from all of that its predecessor’s key players. Main cogs writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, star Ryan Gosling, cinematographer Larry Smith, and even composer Cliff Martinez returned for one of the most anticipated art house projects of 2013. “Drive” was a critical smash and a relative commercial success (relative to its budget and moderate box-office expectations), and boasted a trend-setting electronic soundtrack that endeared it to hipsters everywhere. It is highly stylized, I’ll grant it that. But it isn’t so much a thinking-man’s action movie as it is a brain-dead-man-in-a-seven-year-coma’s action movie. After watching “Only God Forgives,” “Drive” begins to seem like a happy accident more than a deliberate success. I can’t say I trust Winding Refn much anymore.

What’s the plot? Well, there isn’t really one. This is an ugly movie about ugly people doing ugly things that we really, really don’t care about. Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an American club owner in Thailand who likes celibately watching local prostitutes masturbate a whole lot. Julian is soon charged by his creepy mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to avenge the murder of his disgusting-pederast brother Billy (Tom Burke), at the hands of stone-faced mob boss Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). And that’s it. That’s all we get. Another pseudo-narrative indie, “Only God Forgives” is really just 90 insufferable minutes of people staring at each other, plus Kristin Scott Thomas playing an incestuous version of Tan Mom, plus some of the old ultra-violence, plus random interludes of Thai gangster torch singing. By the way, here’s a general rule of thumb in seeking out movies to watch: unless it’s an animated or family-friendly flick, anything that can barely hit a 90-minute running time should be an automatic red flag. Beyond the skimpy running time, there were other warning signs that this thing was a real Turd Ferguson. Alternately booed and adored at Cannes (whereas “Drive” killed at the Croisette two years earlier), it netted a monumentally-generous 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was only awarded a token theatrical roll-out. But I liked “Drive” way too much to pass on this. To my own emotional detriment.

To be fair, “Only God Forgives” would probably have made a fantastic 3-minute music video — which is why I’m sure you’re going to watch this trailer and think to yourself, “Hey, that actually looks pretty cool.” Fine, yes, it does look cool, but just trust me — IT IS FUCKING NOT. NOT EVEN MILDLY. The most boring movie I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t believe Ryan Gosling and Winding Refn actually thought releasing this was a good idea.

Note: In an upcoming podcast, Filmcore contributor Greg Brecher and I will be talking “The Rover” and the rise of the ambiguous-narrative indie in modern American cinema. Stay tuned.

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