Only God Forgives

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Only God Forgives Movie Poster Image
Envelope-pushing revenge drama is ultraviolent (and slow).
  • R
  • 2013
  • 90 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
Based on 6 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

When seen as a cautionary tale, the movie's message is that violence only begets more violence, and vengeance can ultimately lead to your own destruction. Julian's unwillingness to kill an innocent child proves that even the darkest hearts can exhibit moral behavior.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite his propensity for killing and torturing criminals, Chang loves his daughter and is trying to rid the streets of rapists and murderers. Julian is willing to seek revenge for his brother's death, but he's also willing to let people go once he realizes the circumstances of his brother's murder.


This is a remarkably violent film, with scenes often showing the violence in close-up. In addition to shootings, characters are also killed via swords, knives, hairpins, and other sharp objects. The first two murders consist of a man killing a prostitute and then her father being allowed to bash in the killer's head (the dead man's half-missing face is shown). There are scenes of bloody killings, eviscerations, and torture. Chang chops off hands and ears; stabs hands, thighs, and ears; and slices throats and guts. Paid assassins fire a machine gun on a restaurant, killing more innocent bystanders than their intended targets. There's also a bloody boxing scene.


A man goes into a brothel and asks for a 14-year-old prostitute, but the owner declines. He later finds a young-looking streetwalker and goes up a room with her. Julian pays a prostitute to masturbate in front of him after she ties his hands to a chair. A mother talks about the fact that her older son had "a bigger c--k" than her younger son. Thai go-go dancers and sex workers are shown trying to attract clients.


Lots of cursing, including "f--k," "motherf--ker," "a--hole," "c--t," "bitch," "yellow n----r," "c--k," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters smoke cigarettes, and Julian's mother admits that her family deals drugs, mostly heroin and cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Only God Forgives is an extremely violent drama from Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Like 2011's Drive, Refn's latest movie stars Ryan Gosling as a tortured man and features scenes of unflinching violence. The brutality can be startling and includes several moments of vengeance and torture. Men use knives, swords, guns, and their fists to injure, maim, and kill. A client brutally kills a young prostitute, and another man pays a prostitute to pleasure herself while his arms are bound. The language is strong, particularly from Kristin Scott Thomas' character, a grieving (and vengeful) mother who likes to say "f--k," "c--t," "bitch," and much more.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byJustin Rivera March 17, 2014

An Underrated Work Of Art

Only God Forgives is one of the most underrated and overlooked films I have ever seen. It's absolute eye candy with its dreamlike visuals, magenta/blue col... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byGray Young June 8, 2020

An Absolute Masterwork, Reffen has done it again, perhaps better then before

Only God Forgives is an incredible exercise in violent arthouse. Themes of god and strength and justice make this film a mind bending 90 minutes from start to... Continue reading

What's the story?

ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a straightforward revenge story: Billy (Tom Burke), the older of two brothers/Bangkok-based American drug smugglers, kills a young prostitute and is then killed himself by the girl's inconsolable father -- a vengeful act encouraged by Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a vigilante chief detective. When Billy's angry mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), arrives in Thailand, she demands that her brooding younger son, Julian (Ryan Gosling), kill the men responsible. But when Julian discovers that his brother's death was itself an act of vengeance, he spares the prostitute's father -- an act that drives Crystal to take contracts out not only on the grieving dad, but also on Chang. But Chang, who's a champion martial artist and sword wielder, has no problem dispatching all of the contract killers who -- under threat of torture -- lead him right back to Julian and his controlling mother.

Is it any good?

A gifted actor, Gosling does his best with this film's bloody material. But the plot is too thin and the shots too pretentious to add any depth to what amounts to nothing more than torture porn -- particularly when Chang is working his knives -- which he uses to disembowel, slit throats, amputate, and otherwise torture and butcher and kill. Then there's the heavy-handed hand imagery, Julian's bizarre pseudo-relationship with a beautiful prostitute (Rhatha Phongam), and the even creepier dynamic between Julian and Crystal.

Gosling is now the muse du jour of two ambitious filmmakers, Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the PinesBlue Valentine). After two films apiece, Cianfrance's films are the more relationship and character driven, while Refn's are more style over substance. While the stylized elements of Drive added to its appeal, Only God Forgives is a misstep for a filmmaker who clearly wants to make his mark. All those pauses and lingering shots that worked so beautifully in Drive just make Only God Forgives duller than audiences expect from a revenge thriller. Refn has the nerve to be visionary, but he'll need to do better than this.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the amount of violence in Only God Forgives. What's the impact of the bloody, close-up scenes, especially compared to the more popular style of loud, stylized, but not necessarily realistic action violence?

  • Refn has been criticized for his depiction of women. How do the female characters here compare to the ones in Drive? Are any of the women believable?

  • Talk about how violence begets more violence. Did anyone learn any valuable lessons? What is the filmmaker trying to say about revenge and forgiveness?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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