Only God Forgives (2013): “Time to meet the devil.”

only_god_forgives_xlgAn intentionally symbolic story about revenge, Only God Forgives (2013, dir. Nicholas Winding Refn) is the story of Julian (Ryan Gosling), who runs a boxing club in Bangkok, Thailand, but also does quite a bit of drug smuggling on the side. When a member of his family is slaughtered, Julian’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) convinces him that he must find the person responsible and make sure that they face a similar fate.

If you’re expecting another Drive (2011), think again. Ryan Gosling is just as silent in this one, but this time his blank staring has no real effect. He doesn’t look as much of a badass as he does someone who’s taken a whole bunch of tranquilisers. The story is just as tranquilised as Gosling, equal parts slow, repetitive and simplistic. The characters are by and large incredibly unlikeable and it’s difficult to find someone to barrack for. My favourite performance in this was Kristin Scott Thomas’ portrayal of Gosling’s ferocious mother who, whilst cartoonishly villainous at times, was a really interesting one to watch.

In contrast with the sluggish plot, the cinematography is very impressive. Each scene is set up in the most visually intriguing way, and the use of colour and light is amazing. With this in mind, I’m going to use this post to display some of my favourite shots. It’s a big shame that the story fails to impress as much as the visuals do. It seems like this film was a big excuse for Nicholas Winding Refn to experiment with some amazing cinematography, but there was no story to back it up. This could have been a really great film if a similar effort was placed on story and character development.

Let me know what you thought of Only God Forgives – was it really as shallow as I thought it was? I enjoy reading reviews on this one because each reviewers’ opinion seems to be drastically different. Some people say it’s all bad, some people love it, some people choose to apply their own theories that magically make a lot of sense. Some people say that you really have to read between the lines on this one and then the story will magically appear, as if by divine intervention. My opinion is that this one is a treat for the eyes, but not for the brain.

Here is a selection of my favourite shots from the film, mixed up so the plot isn’t completely obvious.









Film: 2/5
Cinematography: 4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch the film at Amazon!


  1. wow… it does look stunning! but I’ll probably skip it… I didn’t even think “Drive” would be all that good.

    1. Yeah, it’s probably one that you don’t need to stress about skipping! 🙂

  2. I completely agree with you. This is visually arresting. But otherwise a total bore.

    1. Yeah, I found it more pointless than boring, but at least the visuals were nice.

  3. Nice review, this one seems to split audiences directly down the middle, I really liked the film and stand by it others tend to absolutely loathe it.:)

    1. I love the fact that it’s so divisive! 🙂

  4. Good review Anna. It’s a crazy piece of film, but it worked well for me because that’s exactly what I expected from it. However, not everybody else did, so I can expect the strange response.

    1. Thanks! It is quite crazy. Even though I didn’t think it was that great, I’m glad I saw it just for the visuals.

  5. Only God Forgives is too obtuse of a film to captivate for me. There is definitely a heavy symbolic theme here which is meant to be read into, but why bother when the world you’re looking at is just so terribly unpleasant? I wanted to love it, since I still have much respect for the duo of Refn and Gosling, but OGF was a bad film (in my opinion). You’re right about it being interesting to read reviews on, though, for the very same reason.

    1. Yeah, I have a big problem with the main themes (i.e. revenge, justice) being told in such broad brushstrokes so that any old theory or symbolism can be applied to it. I think that’s kind of weak, but it’s a good excuse for some bad storytelling!

  6. I have to agree the cinematography is the best thing about this film. Unfortunately I couldn’t like the film as much, and I really wanted to. The soundtrack is great though, big fan of Cliff Martinez!

    1. Totally agreed, love that Martinez!

  7. The shots look great. I had no desire to see the film, which was disappointing as I really liked Drive.

    1. It really is a great-looking film, but you’re not missing out on much!

  8. I hated this movie : (

    1. You’re definitely not alone in that!

  9. I agree, looks amazing, but a snooze fest.

    1. Haha! That’s an excellent summary of the entire film.

  10. I actually really liked this. I loved reading into the different possible meanings of everything. Definitely not for everyone though, I can’t argue with anyone who didn’t like it.

    1. Yeah, I loved reading all the different reviews that analysed the symbolism and layers of meaning. Unfortunately it just didn’t resonate on that level with me!

  11. I really like this one, i think it’s really a character study of Gosling character and i especially love seeing the symbolism through the visuals.
    Really the most divisive film this year i think, and you’d either love it or hate it. I think it’s just that kind of polarizing film.

    1. Even though I didn’t like this one, I do like the fact that it’s a divisive film. Reading lots of different opinions on it is quite refreshing!

  12. I must be honest, I truly despised this film. It was awful, though it looked pretty, it really just fell short of the good mark.

    1. Totally agreed! It’s not a good one.

  13. Oh this movie sucked. I liked cinematography and music but there was literally no story in this one.

    1. Haha! You hit the nail on the head!

  14. I’ve had a review of this written for a while now. I just need to post it. You hit on many of my issues with the movie. A teeth-grinding experience.

    1. I’d love to read your take on it! What a visually stunning but essentially empty film.

  15. […] god forgives? Billy says “Time to meet the devil” to Ryan Gosling’s character in Only God Forgives (2013) just before he (SPOILER ALERT) goes to a brothel, requests to see an underaged prostitute, […]

  16. […] films have been a bit of a gamble recently. It’s no secret that his previous film, Only God Forgives (2013), received a limp reception at best. How might The Neon Demon fare, in comparison with Winding […]

  17. […] Gosling can play a solemn, quiet, and dangerous killing machine (we’ve all seen Drive and Only God Forgives), but he lends something special to this role in particular. Watching Harrison Ford reprise his […]

  18. […] a sense, Good Time recalls the neon aesthetic of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013), but with a 100% better story. The direction by Ben and Josh Safie (AKA The Safdie […]

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