A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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 Pines, Blue 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?
- In theaters: July 19, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: October 22, 2013
- Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm
- Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
- Studio: Radius TWC
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong bloody violence including grisly images, sexual content and language
- Last updated: December 1, 2020
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