Ryan Gosling's 'Only God Forgives' Is Extremely Violent But Worth a Watch
At the 2011 Cannes Film festival, Drive, a crime drama directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling, premiered to rave reviews and a 15-minute standing ovation. Winding Refn won the Best Director prize, and Drive went on to score an incredible 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an Oscar nomination for sound. Flash forward two years, and Winding Refn and Gosling were back at Cannes, screening their latest collaboration, Only God Forgives.
Like Drive, this film was a violent crime thriller and was nominated for a major festival award. Unlike Drive, half the audience booed and walked out when it ended, disgusted with its enormous amount of violence. Some viewers loved it and gave it a standing ovations; others said it was the worst film they'd seen at Cannes. The strength of the reactions made Only God Forgives one of the most divisive, talked-about movies at the festival.
On Friday, Only God Forgives comes out in theaters. The film, about a drug dealer (Gosling) out to avenge his brother's death, is currently holding at a 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and it'll likely take in a modest gross over the weekend. It's financial success is almost irrelevant; its brutal, graphic violence is already shaking up Hollywood, causing enough controversy to make the film's producers very, very happy. Critics' responses have changed from calling Only God Forgives "a lurid horror film dressed up in nonsensical swank" to "wicked cool entertainment" that's "deliciously nasty." Detractors have gone so far as to warn readers to stay away from the film at all costs, describing bloody scenes of rape and chopped-off limbs.
Only God Forgives certainly isn't the first ultra-violent movie to premiere in recent years, but it's likely one of the most divisive. Why? Other graphic films, like Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained (thanks for the nightmares, Tarantino), have contained some level of levity, allowing the violence to not seem so extreme. Only God Forgives, however, doesn't have even a few minutes of humor or lightness, according to reviews. It's a disturbing, non-stop, 90-minute act of brutality. Viewers don't get a break from the action, and there's not enough character development to even allow audiences to care for the people affected by the crimes. It's an hour and a half of pure, graphic violence, and that's a topic guaranteed to cause major division within the critic community.
It'll be interesting to see how Only God Forgives performs at the box office this weekend. It might fail, weighed down by harsh critical reviews and a fully-clothed Ryan Gosling, but it's possible that the negative attention will spur interest, instead. Those brave enough to see it will have to make up their minds for themselves whether the violence is important or overdone, or if it's just a non-issue. I know I won't be checking it out — I'm a scaredy-cat who can barely sit through an episode of Game of Thrones without covering my eyes. If you're stronger than me, though, I'd recommend you give it a try. It's rare for a movie to be so alienating; it's worth finding out what all the fuss is about.