Instead of an aesthetic deepening and enhancing a story, hypnotic mood is the tale being told in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives;" So much so that the details of stoic drug dealer Julian (Ryan Gosling), his murdered brother Billy (Tom Burke), their toxic, vengeful mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), and a militant Bangkok sheriff (Vithaya Pansringarm) out to deliver justice by way of samurai-sword, are pushed to the periphery. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Its execution is highly ambitious, and at several stylistic high-points, gripping as hell.
Writing, directing, and producing, Refn teams up with veteran Stanley Kubrick cinematographer Larry Smith (Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut) to seemingly evoke elements of David Lynch's "Lost Highway," Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," and Jodorowky's "Santa Sangre," which are melted down and mixed with an intoxicating original soundtrack from returning Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez, presenting a vision of the Bangkok underworld that is at once superficially breathtaking and emotionally void. Yet, the icy pain of the characters echo poetically into each frame. Julian in particular, wanders lost in a bardo of his own confusion; meaning well, but unable to connect due to deep scars of his mother's influence.
Technical showmanship aside, the flaw of Only God Forgives lies in its confusing, anticlimactic ending, where Refn abandons the veneer of narrative coherence that holds the film together in its first two acts, opting solely to empower his own subjective symbolism. As Gosling himself stated in an interview, this "alienates" the audience, to no avail. Still, I am left feeling optimistic about what we might see from Refn in the near future.