Gruesomely grotesque and pathologically pretentious, a diabolical horror called Only God Forgives may not be the worst movie ever made, but it is unquestionably in the top five. It reunites the usually reliable Ryan Gosling with the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose work I admired (prematurely, it seems) two years ago in the moody, shocking and perversely fascinating Drive. There is nothing remotely compelling about this one. I should have suspected as much. Premiering in May at the Cannes Film Festival, Only God Forgives was viciously barbecued by the critics after the film was booed so loudly that Ryan Gosling didn’t even show up for the red carpet. Now I know why.
Ultra-violent, demented, plotless, creepy, meat-headed and boring, this is nothing more than a depraved travesty of abstract expression that wastes the film it’s printed on. Get to the point, you say. What is it about? Absolutely nothing, really. Ryan Gosling, looking dangerously anaesthetized, is an American thug who runs a brutal boxing club that doubles as a drug den in the slums of Bangkok. When his sub-mental brother rapes and slaughters a teenage whore, her father slices his head off. Enter a catatonic cop, who proceeds to Cuisinart everyone in sight, and Gosling’s mother Crystal, the despicable, drunken, pill-popping bottle-blonde nymphomaniac head of a family drug empire who travels 10,000 miles to lick her pomegranate-red lips over the corpse of the rapist son, with whom she has obviously been having an incestuous affair for years. This hag is played by none other than Kristin Scott Thomas, who may think she’s slumming, but instead trashes a big chunk of her otherwise respectable career. After she unfavorably compares the size of Gosling’s penis with her dead prodigal son’s johnson, Gosling tells her, “He raped and killed a 16-year-old girl!” The mother retorts, “I’m sure he had his reasons.” The audience howls derisively. That’s about as talky as this disaster ever gets. The script contains such a bare minimum of words that it resembles a cadaver ripped clean of flesh by carrion birds. The action is pretty much left up to the benign Thai cop, who throws boiling oil in a man’s face and bashes his head in with the hot skillet. Then he drives sharp metal spikes through another screaming man’s eardrums and scoops out his eyeballs. Between massacres, the cop sings love songs in a karaoke cabaret. I don’t want to tell you what he does with a samurai sword, or how he slashes open Kristin Scott Thomas’s body with a butcher knife before a drooling Gosling inserts his hands and does unspeakable things with her entrails.
What on earth is going on here? Was Drive a fluke, or is Mr. Refn just another no-talent from the Lars von Trier school of Something Rotten in Denmark flummery? How many times will audiences pay to watch Ryan Gosling’s face black, battered and bleeding like a hamburger run over by a motorcycle? Why does he keep trying to disfigure himself to make his fans retch? Who does he think he is? Brad Pitt? What is he doing in this dung heap at the top of his career, giving a performance that makes roadkill look like Road Runner? Doesn’t he have an agent? Have they all lost total control of their tiny little minds? Without subtext, memorable imagery beyond blood-splattered graffiti, or any form of coherent narrative, Only God Forgives (a title that makes even less sense than the jabber that goes with it) replaces suspense with endless confusion about the meaning of continuity. Part schlockfest, part campy fairy tale, this is a movie that begs you to bring your own barf bag.
In Cannes, one wag described it as “cinematic defecation” in print. I’d like to top that one, but as James Agee used to say, I know when I’m licked.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES
WRITTEN BY Nicolas Winding Refn
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas and Yayaying Rhatha Phongam
Running time: 90 mins.
Rating: 0/4 stars
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