Ryan Gosling gives another strong performance in “Only God Forgives.”
Many male “gangsters” enter a life of crime because some male in their family had an affiliation with the street life or they sought out a sense of belonging from people with a nefarious background.
Nevertheless in “Only God Forgives,” Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his brother Billy (Tom Burke) received their “gangsteerism” from their mother, a cocaine dealer and ruthless killer who comes to Bangkok after Billy is murdered, hell-bent on revenge.
Julian is a drug smuggler who operates a successful boxing gym in Bangkok as a cover up to his real source of income. He spends much of his time entertaining ladies of the night like Mai (Yayaing Rhatha Phongham), seemingly avoiding the trouble that led to his fleeing the United States.
However, when Billy is killed by the father of the 16-year-old girl that he raped and murdered, Julian is unable to follow through on retribution. As a result, his mother flies 10,000 miles to Bangkok to follow through on what she feels should be inevitable for the murderer of obviously her “favorite” son.
“Only God Forgives” is a dark movie, but not in a negative way. It deals with an underworld that many are not affiliated with, thankfully. Many of the characters are cold-blooded assassins but the actors do not give off the notion that the killings are taken in a light-hearted way.
Like in American gang culture, violence begets violence and murders are usually followed with retaliation in a never ending cycle of bloodshed.
Although unusually quiet, Gosling’s character is incredibly intense in “Only God Forgives.”
Even in the scenes with limited dialogue his facial expressions indicate how intense and dangerous his world is. Julian lives in a world in which any given day could be his last; a world where crime has to be paid back with street justice and everyone on the street is possibly a threat to his life.
In essence, those in the Bangkok underworld live by the phrase “only God forgives,” because killings and attempted killings are never forgiven or forgotten.
The undisputed king of the film is Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a police officer who seemingly operates above the law, administering brutal street justice to all of his adversaries.
His presence is also felt with very little dialogue, but with an intense no-nonsense persona that makes Julian’s persona look like a harmless child. In a movie of bad guys, Chang and his associates are the epitome of evil and sinister.
However, Gosling continues to show his growth as an actor after his brilliant performance in movies like “The Ides of March” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
The actor should prepare a place on his mantle for an Academy Award in the near future.
Nevertheless, certain scenes of “Only God Forgives” come across as a distraction like the strange singing scenes in local bars and clubs.
Furthermore, those with weak stomachs might not be able to handle the gore and bloodshed that comes with such a violent film.
Ultimately, what prevents “Only God Forgives” from being a great movie is the ending. With a more triumphant conclusion, the film’s message could have been something transcendent.
However, moviegoers are left with an anticlimactic and non-dramatic ending, which is extremely unfortunate.