Only God Forgives (2013): Refn’s is Cannes’ Worst Film, Booed by Critics, Despite Ryan Gosling

Only God Forgives, one of the worst titles in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Fest, was booed at its first press screening!

Eyebrows were raised about the inclusion of the senselessly violent film, which stars Ryan Gosling. What was it doing there? Were there irrelevant pressures to place it in the festival’s most prestigious series?

In 2011, the gifted filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn won the Best Director Prize at the Cannes Film Fest for Drive, a stylish and moody noir crimer starring Ryan Gosling.

The Bangkok-set crime drama centers on Gosling, who plays Julian, an American fugitive from justice, living in Thailand, where he runs a boxing club in Bangkok as a front for his drug business.

Julian’s mother, the head of a vast criminal organization, arrives from the U.S. to collect the body of her favorite son, Billy. Julian’s brother has just been killed after having savagely murdered a young prostitute. Crazy with rage and thirsty for vengeance she demands the heads of the murderers from Julian.

However, first, Julian must confront Chang, a mysterious retired policeman, and figurehead of a divine justice, who has resolved to scourge the corrupt underworld of brothels and fight clubs.

Unfortunately, the attempts to fuse a sleazy, graphically violent genre flick with the sensibility of a European art film does not work, calling attention to the limitations of each approach, instead of taking the best elements of both strategies, as it did in “Drive,” which is a good but not great picture.

“Only God Forgives” began as a normal fight movie, but, according to the director, “it developed into the idea of creating your own world—sort of a dream world next to reality.” Which led to shooting the whole film at night, to create this sort of dream feel.

The film was shot in chronological order, following Gosling’s journey from start to finish. Some of the themes derived from events that happened when the director and his cast in Bangkok, like the addition of ghosts and spirits to the more realistically grounded tale.

Sharply uneven in dramatic and emotional involvement, “Only God Forgives” goes from being a pretentious spiritual film to a schlocky flick, one that seldom finds the right tone for what’s essentially a very simple and predictable tale.

Gosling is one of our most handsome and talented actors and so I don’t think that “Only God Forgives” would damage his career in the long run. Ultimately, it’s a minor work, a footnote in what is already a distinguished career.

I don’t blame Gosling for choosing not to do the red carpet, or attend the official premiere of his movie.