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Only God Forgives Blu-ray Review

Only God Forgives (2013) movie poster Only God Forgives

US Theatrical Release: July 19, 2013 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Ryan Gosling (Julian), Kristin Scott Thomas (Crystal), Vithaya Pasringarm (Chang), Gordon Brown (Gordon), Rhatha Phongam (Mai), Tom Burke (Billy), Sahajak Boonthanakit (Kim), Pitchawat Petchayahon (Phaiban), Charlie Ruedpokanon (Daeng), Kovit Wattanakul (Choi Yan Lee), Wannisa Peungpa (Kanita), Narucha Chaimareung (Papa San)

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The stylish, powerful Drive created expectations for bigger and better things from Nicolas Winding Refn, its Danish director making his American debut. His follow-up effort, Only God Forgives, which he also wrote, is neither bigger nor better. In fact, it earned mostly negative reviews in its
blink-and-miss release in 80 North American theaters over the summer.

This terse and methodical thriller is set in Bangkok and, like Drive, it centers on a laconic Ryan Gosling character. Julian (Gosling) is an American expatriate who coaches youth kickboxing but really makes his living in drugs. As does his older brother Billy (Tom Burke), a creep whose taste for underage girls makes him a rapist/murderer who is given swift fatal justice by the victim's father. That is evidently the sort of thing that occurs in Bangkok with the blessing of sadistic police lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

Julian's bile-filled mother Crystal (a barely recognizable, bleached blonde and made-up Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives to mourn the loss of her firstborn, dole out verbal abuse, and give off Oedipal airs. When Julian does not carry out the kneejerk vengeance she hungers for, she takes matters into her own hands through the appropriate underworld channels, resulting in more deaths.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) seems a tad overdressed for a fistfight in "Only God Forgives."

Only God Forgives is heavy on style. As usual, Refn favors a dark look and a neon color scheme. The majority of shots take on a red, blue, pink, or yellow tint. He also embraces the setting, relying extensively on Thai dialogue and even employing Thai titles and bilingual closing credits. Refn's directing virtue is indisputable. His writing skills, however, suddenly illuminate the easily overlooked value of Hossein Amini's screenplay and James Sallis' novel to Drive.

Refn continues with the crime themes that have fascinated him since the beginning of his film career in mid-'90s Denmark with his Pusher trilogy. But his cinematic gifts require a worthwhile story, which Only clearly lacks. The director doesn't create a strong enough narrative thread to give his powerful, disjointed images the coherency or meaning they require. The result pushes the movie awfully close to self-parody. Those who didn't like Drive (and that includes a good portion of the general public) can point to Refn's indulgent new film as a magnification of its shortcomings.

The graphic violence that stood for me as the only thing to mar Drive pervades Only. It's brutal and gratuitous as throats are sliced and blood is spilled in large volumes. If you make a living by watching and writing about movies, you're bound to become desensitized. Still, I'm not comfortable when gore is taken to extreme heights. As far as I'm concerned, there's never a great reason to push the envelope on this front, especially when the suggestion of bloodshed is often more effective than using make-up effects to depict it. My viewpoint kept me from loving Django Unchained as much as I might have. Enjoying Only actually requires something of an appetite for slaughter, which Refn treats almost operatically to minimal returns.

Grieving mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) contrasts her sons' genitalia in a one-sided dinner conversation with Julian and the prostitute posing as his girlfriend. Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) lets his sword do most of the talking for him.

The often disturbing content is at odds with Refn's obvious craft. He opts for Stanley Kubrick levels of weirdness (think Eyes Wide Shut) without the impressive body of work to justify it. Without a strong foundation, cinematographer Larry Smith's striking compositions and Cliff Martinez's potent, frequently flaring electronic score fail to resonate.
And though you can credit Refn with being different, a trait that's usually enough to garner critical notice, he's not differing from his celebrated previous film in any productive or encouraging way. While complete reinvention isn't necessary, to glaringly dilute your breakout film is to invite critical backlash, which is what this film earned Refn.

The general public will judge this even more harshly. You may recall that Drive received a lowly C- Cinemascore, an audience rating that often indicates what kind of legs a film will have at the box office. Only didn't get a wide enough release to even be subjected to that type of market research, but I feel if it did, it could have ended up with the F that a few commercial non-starters (most recently, the Brad Pitt flick Killing Them Softly) did. This is a film that many will quit on long before its karaoke-fueled end credits begin just 85 minutes in. Gosling's appeal with women is probably the last thing this film needs, though viewers of either gender will find this too thin, obtuse and off-putting to endure.

As an acquisition of The Weinstein Company's RADIUS-TWC label, Only God Forgives could be seen on demand the same day it opened in select theaters. Starting today, though, you can enjoy it on DVD and Blu-ray on discs distributed by Weinstein partner Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Only God Forgives Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, English
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even those who hate Only God Forgives would be hard-pressed to deny that the film is full of striking visuals. The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 transfer presents them delightfully, with stunning clarity and detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also remarkable, less for its distribution of the scarce dialogue, but for the presence it gives Cliff Martinez's pleasing score. The sound design entails some peaks and valleys, but it's not much of a nuisance since there isn't much you can miss. Some of the film's copious Thai dialogue is translated by a default player-generated English subtitle track, which isn't ideal but suffices.

Writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn discusses the film with Mark Dinning in this hotel room interview. Nicolas Winding Refn wants a very specific look from actor Tom Burke in this "Behind the Scenes" short.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer/director/producer Nicolas Winding Refn, who is prompted and questioned by Damon Wise. Refn describes Only as "very, very strong acid" compared to Drive's "really, really good cocaine." He talks technique (locations, the look) as well as the dramatic intent that's not always evident in the film. Refn recalls confirming for a Cannes viewer that it all takes place in the womb,
the real bruises Gosling endured from his big sharp-dressed fight, Gosling's profanity contribution, and how Kristin Scott Thomas developed her character. It's an okay listen for a film most won't want to give a second viewing.

On the all-HD video side, we start with two short Refn interviews. The filmmaker describes the film, its depiction of Thailand, and use of "supernatural" elements and irregular chronology to Empire editor Mark Dinning (6:05). Then, he talks mixing up genres and production experiences with French journalist Bruno Icher (6:00).

A Behind the Scenes section serves up twelve candid looks (23:27) at Refn directing and planning various sequences with a predominantly Thai crew. These clips are enough to illustrate that story is secondary to visuals for the director, who is kind of demanding of his actors, or at least Tom Burke. Interestingly, Gosling hardly features in these bits.

Ryan Gosling looks at the camera to make sure it's captured director Nicolas Winding Refn's comparison of violence to sex. Interviewed in front of his signature Cristal Bachet, composer Cliff Martinez shows off other instruments he used  on the "Only God Forgives" score.

"The Music of Only God Forgives with Cliff Martinez" (9:10) interviews the composer, who discusses his history in music, reuniting with Refn, working with the sound department to create textures,
and the unique instruments he used on this film.

The disc, which failed to properly load for me about half the time, opens with a trailer for the Pusher remake. It is the only trailer found on the disc.

The menu plays clips and an excerpt of Cliff Martinez's score. Weinstein continues not to equip their Blu-rays with the ability to resume or set bookmarks, making broken-up viewing more laborious than it needs to be.

The only insert within the standard blue keepcase promotes Lovelace and the Only God Forgives soundtrack, from which you can download two free tracks.

No primary color gets neglected in Nicolas Winding Refn's stylized visuals. Here, red gets its chance to tint a silent Ryan Gosling.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Nicolas Winding Refn opts for far more style than substance in Only God Forgives, which renders it a major disappointment following the highly enjoyable Drive. One hopes his considerable directing talents are applied to something less violent and more meaningful in the near-future.

Anchor Bay's Blu-ray delivers a terrific feature presentation and a good collection of bonus features. There's enough of interest to recommend a viewing, so long as you're prepared to be frustrated and let down.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn: Drive | Produced by and Adapted from Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher (2012)
New: The Fall: Series 1 Plush The Conjuring Before Midnight Pacific Rim After Earth
Ryan Gosling: Gangster Squad The Ides of March Blue Valentine Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Kristin Scott Thomas: Four Weddings and a Funeral The Other Boleyn Girl Nowhere Boy Confessions of a Shopaholic
Vintage Gosling: Remember the Titans Mickey Mouse Club: The Best of Britney, Justin & Christina
Killing Them Softly The Hangover Part II Dragon The Impossible Hereafter Good Morning, Vietnam

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Reviewed October 22, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 RADiUS-TWC, Gaumont, Space Rocket Nation, Motel Movies, Bold Films, Wild Bunch,
The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.