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‘Only God Forgives’ Reviews: Cannes Critics Kick the Crap Out of Ryan Gosling’s Latest

Only God Forgives Trailer
Wild Bunch

Heading into the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, ‘Only God Forgives’ floated near the top of our must-see list because it marked the next collaboration between ‘Drive’ director Nicolas Winding Refn and his brooding star, Ryan Gosling. We knew little about the film beyond the fact that it takes places in the seedy, sleazy world of Thailand’s kick-boxing community. And Gosling’s handsome face was going to get kicked around … a lot.

What are the critics saying about Refn’s latest work? Some are warming up to it. Others are harshly dismissing it. Either way, it is the talk of the festival today.

Now that the film has screened in France, however, the surprising reaction has critics sharply divided on the film. While critics couldn’t agree on ‘Only God Forgives’ they seemed unified in their praise for Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of Gosling’s vicious, vindictive mother.

Could Scott Thomas ride this wave of enthusiasm to a 2014 Oscar nomination early next year? Some already are speculating, with Clayton Davis of the Awards Circuit writing, “I feel very confident that it may be time to seriously look to Academy Award nominee Kristin Scott Thomas as a potential candidate for Best Supporting Actress…The first reactions have come out of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and many seem to be praising her twisted, matriarch turn.”

Let’s run through some ‘Only God Forgives’ reactions from Cannes.

Our own Jordan Hoffman took to Twitter:

Sasha Stone of Awards Daily compared Refn’s film to the bloody conclusion of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained,’ only “turned into a two hour Malick movie.” Stone says the crowd loved it, while she hated it.

The Twitter condemnation continued with Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, who drove a knife through the heart of Refn’s film by saying:

Phillips later joked that many he spoke to after the screening were rethinking their praise of ‘Drive’ and ‘Bronson.’

Few, though, truly hated ‘Only God Forgives’ as much as Hollywood-Elsewhere mouthpiece Jeff Wells, who writes:

Movies really don’t get much worse than Nicholas Winding Refn‘s ‘Only God Forgives.’ It’s a shit macho fantasy — hyperviolent, ethically repulsive, sad, nonsensical, deathly dull, snail-paced, idiotic, possibly woman-hating, visually suffocating, pretentious. I realize I sound like Rex Reed on one of his rants, but trust me, please — this is a defecation by an over-praised, over-indulged director who thinks anything he craps out is worthy of your time. I felt violated, shat upon, sedated, narcotized, appalled and bored stiff.

Wow. Did anyone like this movie?

David Rooney does write in The Hollywood Reporter that the “hypnotic fugue on themes of violence and retribution” leans on a “skeletal narrative [that] mixes martial arts action with sexually loaded mother-son conflict that makes superficial nods to Shakespeare and Greek tragedy.” But Rooney admits that it “has way more style than subtext, not that it’s likely to diminish its cultish allure for avid genre fans.”

And Jessica Kiang, writing for IndieWire, sums up:

On paper, ‘Only God Forgives’ is exactly the movie we might have wanted — a re-visitation to the dark, fetishistically violent world of ‘Drive,’ with added local color and occasional, acid dialogue. Onscreen it’s that too: just that and no more.

Not exactly the wave of high praise Refn might have been hoping to receive from the Cannes critical community. And not nearly as positive as the response that ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘ received earlier in the week at Cannes. The movie will have other opportunities to please crowds when it opens in the U.S. later this year, but tell us, does this initial wave of negative criticism scare you off of ‘Only God Forgives’ for the time being?

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