So it was with much joy and great anticipation I greeted the news that Winding Refn would be teaming up again with Ryan Gosling for his next film, another (somewhat) violent thriller, which he also wrote called 'Only God Forgives'. This time the setting would be in the seedy criminal underworld of Bangkok, where Gosling's character (Julian) is a successful drug smuggler. His life takes a completely different course after the death of his brother, who as the film reveals is a very sick individual. Soon after we have the arrival of Julian's mother, Crystal (played with an extreme vengeance by an almost unrecognisable Kristin Scott Thomas) who doesn't just arrive, but more crash lands into the vicinity with an attitude of 'take no prisoners!' She forcefully tells her son he should seek out and then kill the person who murdered his brother. And there you have it. The main outline for this outrageous tale, but of course it is in the telling that makes 'Only God Forgives' distinguishable (not always for the good) and definitely not one for the squeamish.
What you cannot fail to avoid in 'Only God Forgives' is the extreme level of violence throughout. It is relentless, and quite shocking in places, yet I never ever felt it was gratuitous. The movie's journey is intense and along the way many people get seriously hurt in quite painful methods, including Julian himself in an extended fight scene. I felt the violence was there for a purpose, showing the harsh realities of the dire consequences that can occur from our actions. In all honesty I must admit I found myself at times looking away from the screen, and it is this factor that has caused me to view the movie in a slightly unfavourable manner. I do not believe the visual impact needed to be so severe. This is a revenge story that has many interesting elements, but some of its more outlandish characters and situations threaten to overturn the whole apple cart. Credit should go to Gosling who managed to keep his 'cool' persona while the mayhem around him evolved and the amazing Kristin Scott Thomas who delivered a performance I have never seen from her before. For me, she stole the show. Overall, I would say not a bad effort from Mr Winding Refn, but ultimately one where style won over substance.