The most vibrant element of Only God Forgives is the colors in the film. Most scenes are bathed in a red hue, especially those that are set in the Red Light District of Bangkok. Others are drenched in neon colors, creating a seedy look to the movie. Despite how prettily shot Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest is (and much credit goes to cinematographer Larry Smith, who did Refn’s Bronson), Only God Forgives is shallow, lacking any depth whatsoever.
Cliff Martinez (who also previously collaborated with Refn on Drive) does great work with the soundtrack. There’s some of his trademark electronic flourishes, but also an often appearing pipe organ that provides a stark contrast to the rest of the instrumentation. The strange juxtapositions of sounds lends itself well to a film of this nature.
For all the Kubrickian tracking shots down corridors and perfectly framed and centered shots, there are no remotely likable characters to speak of. Ryan Gosling is a fantastic actor but between this, his previous collaboration with Refn (Drive) and The Place Beyond the Pines, his “Man of Few Words” shtick is growing tiresome. Only God Forgives is brutally violent, and that aspect alone will turn off most. For others, it will be the sparse dialogue. The aspect I appreciate the most–it’s unique, cartoonish whilst serious tone–is likely also it’s downfall. Though this noir often feels dreamlike, it’s not a dream I’d want to stay with.