Stink Spreads All Over

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.

I hate all that cheap Asian macho shit to begin with (seething rage, swords, vengeance, territoriality, kickboxing, bloodlettings) and this rancid fantasy wank pushed all the bad buttons from the get-go. I sat there seething, my teeth grinding. Thank God it lasted only 90 minutes.

Effyoueffyoueffyoueffyoueffyou, Refn…eff you and the whole Asian action-porn attitude you rode in on. You’re now a dead man in my book. Dead as Jimmy Hoffa. Drive is still a good film but now I want to trash it somehow. Let’s see…it was also paced like a funeral of an 89 year-old Italian man with too many relatives, and like Only God Forgives it had this fetish about slicing flesh and limbs with sharp knives and swords, and it definitely needed one more fast-car sequence. I can tell you this — I’ll never watch Bronson ever again and I’ll never, ever visit Bangkok, not even with one of Refn’s swords at my neck. I’m even starting to re-think Pusher in the wake of this shite.

The Nicholas Winding Refn takedown insurgency starts here. He has played his last macho sadism sword-knife card. Well, I’m sure he hasn’t but if I was the dictator of Hollywood I would shun his ass.

I even have this idea that Refn has personal problems. Seriously. Watch this movie and you’ll soon be saying to yourself, “Who the hell is this fucking guy? Is he a monster? A sadism machine? What does he feel? Who or what does he care about?” If I were Refn I would think about submitting to therapy and whatever medications might help in the general effort, but I’m not Refn and he has his own life to live. I only know that Only God Forgives is malignant, odious crap.

Only God Forgives is basically about a gang of Bangkok-based white-guy drug dealers (led by a pair of glaring, psychotic, inarticulate zombie brothers played by Ryan Gosling and Tom Burke) who ignite a tit-for-tat vengeance feud for morally reprehensible reasons and who get their asses handed to them by a sword-wielding Asian cop known on the Wiki page as “the Angel of Vengeance” and played by Vithaya Pansringarm. I was on the cop’s side all the way. Waste those assholes. Make ’em howl and scream and beg for their lives. Up with sword-wielding Asian cops!

It starts with Burke, obviously an asshole and some kind of diseased Hannibal Lecter-type psychopath, hiring a pretty teenaged prostitute and then going upstairs with her and carving her up like a turkey. He obviously needs to die painfully. Pansringarm and some other cops show up and survey the scene with Bruke sitting on a bed, and then Pansringarm goads the father of the girl to kill Burke, which he does. And then Pansringarm decides that the father has to be mutilated for urging or allowing his other daughters to become prostitutes, and so he cuts off part of his arm with a sword.

My God, what a brilliant beginning for a film! I desperately wanted to see a Godzilla-like serpent crawl out of the Bangkok river and find all these characters and eat them and their clothes.

Gosling, naturally, gets it in his head that his brother’s death needs to be avenged, when in fact it needs to be celebrated. Then he has second thoughts when he realizes his brother had slaughtered a teenage prostitute. When he informs his gargoyle mafia-godmother mom, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, that the scenario is “complicated” due to his brother’s crime, KST is unfazed. “I’m sure he had his reasons,” she says. She reveals later on that she always favored Burke because he was ballsier and braver and had a much bigger schlong than Gosling did.

And then stone-faced Gosling starts hanging out with a very pretty prostitute, played by Rathar Phongam, except she offends him greatly in one scene by asking him why he takes so much shit from his mother. He snaps and pushes her against the wall and demands that she take her dress off, which she does. And then he gives it back to her.

It’s rare to find a movie as dedicated as this one to making absolutely no sense.

Anyway, one guy gets killed and then another one and then a couple of hit men take out a whole roomful of folks in a cafe in an attempt to hit Pansringarm, and then Pansringarm runs and kills the hitmen with his sword and then he kills Gosling’s top henchman, and then Gosling goes after his family and yaddah yaddah. The basic thrust, as previously noted, is that the cop rules and the white guys are toast.

I was repelled by this film in ways I didn’t know I could be repelled before I saw it. Okay, I liked Kristin Scott Thomas but she isn’t given much in the way of understandable motivation, and she really doesn’t have a lot of great dialogue. NWR just gives her some, just enough. What he’s really in love with is lighting everything with a blood-red tint. And getting Gosling to play a stone-faced asshole.

  • You were predisposed to hate it before you even set foot in the theater. Talk about a foregone conclusion. Why did you even bother sitting through the damn thing?

    • Zed75

      Really? I recall Jeff gushing over Drive.

      • TheAngryInternet

        Almost every post Wells has made about OGF within the last few months has voiced concerns about “Asian macho bullshit” and the like. Winding Refn’s big mistake was filming in Bangkok instead of going back to L.A., or better yet some “classy” Western European capital.

    • It’s shit, I’m telling you.

  • Perfect Tommy

    Not since Roger Ebert and “North”…Fun tirade, thanks.

  • Yada yada yada…have to agree with Kevin McCormick. You were predisposed to hate it. NWR does exactly THIS type of movies. And he´s brilliant with vibes and visuals. That´s all I care in my brand of cinema.

    • He’s not brilliant. He’s tedious. He’s pedestrian.

    • hickoryduck

      “vibes and visuals” is all you care about? Jesus.

    • Bill Hicks

      “That´s all I care in my brand of cinema.”

      Yep — morons like you have ruined cinema. Because “all you care about”, in your “brand” is idiocy. Not visuals, no — you’re mistaken. It’s idiocy you crave and it’s idiocy you get. The rest of us pay the unfortunate price.

  • Reads like this is a going to be a very divisive movie (Guardian’s got a review which is the complete reverse of this) which is a great thing in my book.

    • Just read that Peter Bradshaw GUARDIAN review. Great start sentence: “It may not win the Palme D’Or, but it could win the Walkout D’Or…”

  • zantetsupowaa

    But how does it compare to Saints Row?

    • Trimmer

      Only God Forgives is to Saints Row as what the David Spade/Brian Backer portion of Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol is to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3.

  • PatJim

    If Jeff were supreme dictator of Hollywood, he’d know subjunctive tense. Lol.

  • “It’s rare to find a movie as dedicated as this one to making absolutely no sense.”

    You may be completely right about the movie, but I don’t see why that doesn’t make any sense. Assumably, Gosling’s masculinity is threatened by his mother, and he is attempting to assert it to himself and the prostitute by a display of virility.

    • Joseph

      agreed…. it definitely “makes sense”

  • Actually

    I hope Wells doesn’t lack the self-awareness to appreciate he just COMPLETELY SOLD many of us on this movie.

    • hickoryduck

      Really? These types of movies appeal to you?

  • Samcornwell

    If it was loved by all, it wouldn’t be any good, would it? All these negative reviews are just getting me more psyched.

  • merton82

    This is basically what the reactions to Jeff’s Cannes reviews amount to.

    “You hate the thing I expect to love? Fuck you. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You came in expecting to hate it. You’re wrong.”

    “You love the thing I expect to love? I knew it was going to great! Now I really can’t wait to see it! Anybody who doesn’t like this movie is an idiot.”

    Why doesn’t everybody just take every review with a grain of salt, appreciate it for what it is (one man’s entertaining opinion, sometimes predictably cast), and realize that criticizing someone for disliking something you HAVENT SEEN but expect to like is childish.

  • No, it blows. Here’s how you can tell if it’s a bad movie. Take out the graphic violence. Anything left except showy shot compositions? Nope.

    • cyanic

      Aren’t you Annie Wilkes to David Fincher’s Paul Sheldon?

    • Vinci_Smetana

      The script I read has the West European characters as interlopers on a culture most of them don’t engage, and holds them guilty of their ignorance, which I found rare, truthful, and intriguing. They must have taken that part out if you saying there was nothing left.

      • Alan Burnett

        When Gosling was cast, the entire family was turned into Americans, which explains why Tom Burke was cast as the brother. Even if Refn was faithful to his script, it’s create a different subtext with American characters.

        • Vinci_Smetana

          I don’t believe that changes the merits of my comments. British shifted to American. So the accents are different because Gosling couldn’t pretend he was from England. Refn would have to have had majorly overhauled the script to erase the interloping/ignorance aspect I mentioned. No?

          • Alan Burnett

            Yeah, I guess. I merely assumed that critics would be less willing to engage with the interloper stuff as a result of the cultural change. I am hearing a lot of talk about the spiritual aspects of the film rather than the cultural ones, so either Refn changed the piece or critics aren’t picking up on it as a result of the casting changes.

            • Vinci_Smetana

              I would like to see how the spiritual component plays in, as I’m wondering if that was derived more from the direction or the writing. (I didn’t get a sense of it from the version I read.) Well, I guess we have to wait to see the movie. I’m anxious to see if I will feel the same way as the dissenting bloggers, or the film will make good on what I enjoyed about the script. Very telling if it’s the latter.

  • MarkVH

    “It’s a shit macho fantasy — hyperviolent, ethically repulsive, sad, nonsensical, deathly dull, snail-paced, idiotic, possibly woman-hating, visually suffocating, pretentious.”

    So it’s a sequel to Drive, then?

    • hupto

      I agree. I thought DRIVE was one of the most overrated movies of that year, for all the reasons you just echoed. It was like Refn saw the original THE MECHANIC and thought, “Not artsy-fartsy enough.”

    • I know one shouldn’t have anything to do with the other, but I can’t help but feel slightly vindicated. I was among those who thought DRIVE was an empty ‘too cool for school’ glorified direct-to-DVD action trope, and I took my lumps for saying as much.

  • merton

    The shot in the trailer of Gosling dragging a man down a hallway by his mouth was enough to tell that this was likely to be as shallow and unrealistic as Drive. Stylish and well-acted perhaps, but juvenile.

  • Ray Quick

    So many “critics” complain about “style over substance,” when the WHOLE POINT of movies is style. It’s unfortunate that modern film theory in essence likens cinema to literary analysis, because they’re not the same thing.

    Whinging about “shot compositions” (Sasha) and the stylistic quirks (Wells) suggests, for the umpteen zillion times, that paid critics are as bad as JOE YOUTUBE in terms of demanding wack-ass 1-2-3 connective plot points and structure and whatnot. Movies are first and foremost about the visual. Everything else is secondary. Fuck plot and fuck writing. I know that pains every “spec script in the drawer” Monday Morning quarterback who makes a lifetime of the internet, but VISUALS ABOVE ALL ELSE.

    And as a quick aside I’m too drunk to get into, what’s this shit where MOVIE BLOGGERS, who are THE most venal and hateful and unpleasant, mean-spirited cranks on earth, turn around and reject cinematic nihilism? Like Wells is such a SUNSHINE AND RAINBOWS (TM BALBOA) guy. If NOTHING ELSE, I sure as fuck linger around this sphere to know of what I speak, and every CANNES-ATTENDING MOVIE BLOGGER/JUNKET GUY is as hateful as fucking Dollarhyde with an itchy rage-case trigger finger. Then they get all put off by a violent movie. Christ, yeah, because all you dudes seem so even-keel in your zero-to-60 psychoses you pen on a daily basis. Whatever Gosling’s up to in this movie surely ain’t half as psychotic as half the American movie bloggerati gets if they get locked out of a screening or someone calls them on their bullshit.

    • You forget, sir, that we’re all hateful in a LIBERAL way.

      • Ray Quick

        I didn’t have time to get into it.

        But if Devin Faraci or Wells are liberal, then the fucking Klan just might have a moral high ground.

    • Magga

      I completely agree that visuals and atmosphere are stunningly undervalued by critics, and I haven’t seen this movie, but don’t you wish more of the stylish directors ALSO had something to make movies about? I’ve seen Enter The Void three times but it still frustrates me that it’s got absolutely nothing on it’s mind except the look. I’m not even talking about depth, but a plot that keeps you guessing or at least interested. Had it been a crime movie where he viewed an investigation of his own death, for example, it would have had something to keep the attention. I was sure I was watching a great movie in Drive when he tried to figure out who’s money he had, but the mystery was almost instantly resolved and it was all about going after the bad guys one by one and killing them. I’d rather have someone with a love of style than someone like, say, Clint Eastwood, but something interesting does need to happen beyond “stylish kills”

    • Morpheos

      Tell yourself that. If there is no story, then there is no movie. And what do the best movies and stories have ? A beginning, a middle, and an end. If you want pure visuals then go to visual art-exhibitions.

    • Alan Burnett

      I agree: I have NO IDEA what ‘style over substance’ actually means anymore. Isn’t the style supposed to tell us something about the world, the characters, the setting etc.? How can a critic possibly write anything analytical or intelligent about the film if they reject WHY and HOW filmmakers made these choices? There has to be a REASON why Refn chose to shoot a scene with key lighting or use a tracking shot or a reaction shot etc.? The idea that there is NO MEANING just isn’t criticism. I didn’t mind Stone or Wells’ reviews, but that fiercely anti-intellectual element annoyed me.

    • Trimmer

      “Movies are first and foremost about the visual. Everything else is secondary. Fuck plot and fuck writing.”

      Now I understand why you like MONTE CARLO so much.

  • So should I take the kid with me? The trailer looked like it was an ad for a Men’s musk.

  • Wasn’t a fan of DRIVE, except for the opening bit with the two robbers. Never been a big Gosling fan. Dug LARS cause it was a way out there idea and pretty funny. Have yet to want to see a flick cause he’s in it.

  • hickoryduck

    Well “Drive” is a shit macho fantasy too, so…

  • Alan Burnett

    I expected many bloggers would hate it: Refn clearly wanted to further define his style. This time, Refn didn’t have source material or another writer to bounce ideas off, taking some of his earlier visual concepts and pushing them into a more darker, challenging direction. This is what I wrote BEFORE the Cannes Film Festival: “This isn’t a complaint, but I think this film will be far more divisive amongst critics than his previous film. Whilst The Driver was a sociopath, you could still empathize with his motivation: to protect Irene and her son. We can also identify with Irene as the POV character who witnesses the violence and is shocked by it. In this film, Gosling’s character is a drug-smuggling(!) fugitive(!!) who killed a cop(!!!) and is tasked by his gangster mother(!!!!) to avenge the death of his brother … who was killed for murdering a prostitute(!!!!!). Who can identify with ANY OF THIS?”

    • Well, whether or not one believes that audience identification with a character is paramount, pulling it off can be a neat trick that enriches the film: see Norman Bates in “Psycho.” If you’re just going to make a character repellent, and think that having him played by Ryan Gosling is going to in and of itself ameliorate or even interestingly complicate that, then you might just be a, well, shallow filmmaker. What’s “challenging?” Not challenging to Refn, but to an audience. What’s its value? What’s the reason viewers ought to be compelled by Refn’s exercises in “refining” his “style?” Just because it’s a style? Your rationalization rather borders on wank, Mr. Burnett.

      • Alan Burnett

        Err, I did mean “challenging” to the audience. I thought Refn wanted to push the viewer in terms of what they find identifiable or not. And I didn’t think I was rationalizing anything. And I am not sure what it’s “value” is because I would have to see how Refn utilizes sound, cinematography, dialogue and other filmic techniques in order to understand its values. I was merely making assumptions about Refn’s motives for his creative decisions, not suggest whether or not they worked. Frankly, I am kinda baffled by your criticisms. Is trying to understand the approach of an artist REALLY rationalization? Honestly, I think merton82 was more on the money in terms of his criticisms of me than your post.

    • merton82

      Good thing they’re handing out cookies for anyone who correctly predicted the critical reaction to films at Cannes.

      • Alan Burnett

        Aren’t they?

  • cinefan25

    Ray Quick is right. If you suffer from ADHD and you wouldn’t read a book even when someone has a gun pointed at your head ordering you to read or else, then visuals in a film are everything and dialogue and plot don’t matter at all.

  • Zach

    “I can tell you this — I’ll never watch Bronson ever again and I’ll never, ever visit Bangkok, not even with one of Refn’s swords at my neck.”

    I personally couldn’t stand Carnage — so I’ll never watch Rosemary’s Baby ever again, and I’ll never, ever visit New York, not even with Polanksi’s prick at my bum.

  • Matt24

    Drive was overrated horseshit, worst of all it proved what I already suspected, Refn is a hack. It’s the same fucking movie as Thief by Michael Mann with James Caan except you know, not fucking good.

    • MarkVH


    • Brian Turnbull

      Whether or not you think he is a hack, Refn is churning out films while you are making lattes at Starbucks. But I bet this comment made you feel better about yourself.

  • am·bi·gu·i·ty [am-bi-gyoo-i-tee] Show IPA noun, plural am·bi·gu·i·ties.
    doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention: to speak with ambiguity; an ambiguity of manner. 2. an unclear, indefinite, or equivocal word, expression, meaning, etc

    I joke…I joke…

  • What’s wrong with masculinity? 2macho4you

  • To say nothing of Only God Forgives which I hope is better than Jeff’s review suggests BUT…

    The “style versus substance” argument is as pointless as the old ‘stats versus scouts’ deal with major league baseball. You need BOTH. Style and substance compliment each other in the best movies and primetime directors know it. The style can serve the story or the story can serve the style but ranking one above the other makes zero sense.

    Some filmmakers trend toward one direction (Woody Allen leans more toward the literary while Malick’s relies more on visual composition). But a script and camera gives directors the tools to, you know, EXPLORE BOTH REALMS and ignoring one harms the other in the long run. Blowing shit up on film has a better impact when it’s set up properly by the story (Bridge on the River Kwai being a classic example) and exploring a character drama produces richer results when the movie builds up an immersive world (The Ice Storm). Otherwise, you’re left with mumblecore.

    • ^^ This! ^^

    • Guest

      I don’t I fully agree with that. Michelangelo Antonioni,

  • I’m wondering if there is going to be a Morgenstern turnaround on this ala Bonnie and Clyde. Not suggesting that the two films are similar, but the outright hateful critical reception to this isn’t seen often.

  • Breedlove

    DRIVE is the best movie of the last five years. Refn is a genius. No chance in hell this is that bad.

  • Casper

    “I even have this idea that Refn has personal problems.”

    Well, one of you does. He makes art that people the world over pay to see.

    You write a nonsensical, hysterical (in both senses, though the comedy is surely unintentional) and hyperbolic blog. And do so rather poorly.

  • Trimmer

    Already have my tickets for the LA Film Festival next month.

  • msdamselfly

    Great review Thank you for telling it like it is and going up against this disgusting appetite for violence and lack of self-awareness that plagues our society.

    • You realize they leveled the same clucking criticisms about the violence in Shakespeare, right? Conflict is not just the definition of drama it is also an indelible, inescapable part of the human condition. Get over yourself and humorless condescension.

      • msdamselfly

        Conflict which illuminates something worthwhile about mankind or nature is different than an enjoyment of depravity and violence and lust because of a lack of self respect.

    • Eloi Wrath

      This post brought to you by the American Family Association.

  • I watched THE GUILT TRIP on the plane back from Cannes and I have to say, based upon the description of the Refn, that they might basically both be the same film.

    • Eloi Wrath

      I also saw The Guilt Trip on a plane en route to a business trip lately. It was actually not bad for plane viewing.

  • Fact: there is not a movie made within the past 20 years that hasn’t been compared to fecal matter by some commenter on some website somewhere.

  • Mechanical Shark

    I knew Wells wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t anticipate that his review would make this film seem unappetizing to me. But yeah, okay, if it really doesn’t have much of a point or thematic drive, why bother? I mean, I appreciate gore and violence, but there kind of has to be SOMETHING to it.

  • M. Hofgaard

    “You’re now a dead man in my book. Dead as Jimmy Hoffa. Drive is still a good film but now I want to trash it somehow.”

    Yeah!! Way to go! The hobbit sucked and now I’l understand that the best thing to do is to throw out my LOTR-collection! Thank you for your professionality and fantastic review, Jeffrey Wellis!

  • @B_Lavoie

    I’m a film student at Emerson College and this is my first time replying to a film blog, but since Refn and his films played a huge role in my ultimate application and transfer into a college film program … Here goes… I think Refn obviously had his own reasons for making this film. As he’s said time and time before, he is a fetish filmmaker – he indulges himself by making the films he would like to see. This review made me immediately think of the reviews that came out of Cannes for films such as Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” and Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” Refn is an individual who’s of the opinion that Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” was the best exploitation film of all time, and arguably the best film, straight-up, of all time. Maybe I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate, but he is clearly a unique individual who makes films for himself, and not for critics. He was recruited for “Drive,” and made it into a film he himself would’ve liked to have seen. “Drive” was originally supposed to be a $100-200 million dollar feature starring Hugh Jackman… Have you read the book? Refn made a version, that while it was most certainly self-indulgent, was much more realistic than what “would have been.” While he may indulge himself in this new film, “Only God Forgives (deeply according to this review), as well, he makes cinema that evokes emotions. While those emotions are all, quite clearly, of vastly different colors and opinions, he evokes feelings nonetheless. As a film student, I honestly think and believe that that is what filmmaking is all about. He takes chances – casting Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose, and here, casting KST as Crystal… Actors love working with him; I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about the man in terms of how he directs his actors. I’ve seen every single one of his films and quite honestly, though in very different ways, I’m reminded of a new-age sort of exploitation cinema that was seen in the late 60’s – early 80’s… I mean, he set up “Bronson” as an opera! So, I guess in closing, while everyone has different opinions on the content of his films and whether or not he’s more concerned about style over the narrative content, I have to respect him as a professional striving to try something new. And while that “something new” may seem indulgent or too selfish for some, it seems to evoke all sorts of emotions, and to me that is the ultimate goal of cinema – To tell stories and evoke emotion.

    …Maybe I’m a tad bit biased too, because I did win an “Only God Forgives” poster on twitter from TWC Radius… Thanks for the thought provoking review, Mr. Wells. Enjoy the remainder of the festival!

  • Lif Walker

    you no-name hack critics are lost without Ebert to give you our opinions.

  • Worst Critic Ever.

    Wow, did Refn poison your dog? This is the worst review I’ve ever read. Not because you’re saying the film is bad….but more so because you’re getting so personal in your attacks on the film and it’s filmmaker. Nothing looks more unprofessional than that and items amazing you’re even considered to be a relevant opinion on film. Learn to critique without looking biased. Child.

  • Brian Turnbull

    Ironically, this is the most self-indulgent review I’ve ever read.

  • Joseph

    This is a terrible review.. I think you have to be sort of immature and close minded to not like this film