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Cannes: How ‘Only God Forgives’ Suggests Ryan Gosling’s Schtick Has Worn Thin

Cannes: How 'Only God Forgives' Suggests Ryan Gosling's Schtick Has Worn Thin

Ryan Gosling is a talented actor who has faced the same challenge most distinctive performers inevitably must confront: the danger of turning into a walking cliché. To that end, the decision to avoid traditional blockbuster vehicles in favor of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-violent B-movie-turned-art-film “Drive” was a masterstroke. Woefully ignored by the Academy, his uber-macho turn played like a wry comment on the inherent absurdity of male stardom. Unfortunately, by re-teaming with Refn for the far less inventive genre exercise “Only God Forgives,” Gosling has tumbled into the exact trappings that “Drive” smartly assailed.

The movie is like one thin satiric lark inexplicably slowed down to the point of lethargy. Gosling plays Julian, a Bangkok-based drug smuggler whose psychotic brother is murdered in an early scene after he rapes and kills a young woman. Enter their hilariously psychotic mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), eager to seek revenge against the girl’s mother who committed the initial act of vengeance despite Julian’s insistence that the guy had a right. “I’m sure he had a good reason for it,” she insists. A scowling, foul-mouthed camp figure, Thomas’ character strikes a telling contrast to Gosling’s zombified gaze. She’s enjoyably blunt (comparing his sons’ penis sizes at the dinner table) and utterly insane, whereas Gosling seems at first poised to transition into something of a hero and instead remains something of a robot. 

READ MORE: The Playlist Reviews “Only God Forgives”

He’s not alone. Almost everyone moves at a snail’s pace in “Only God Forgives.” Refn stages each scene with the self-serious bleakness of a Robert Bresson picture, but applies such a cheap, one-note premise that his air quote approach to art house aesthetics reeks of student film indulgence. That doesn’t mean that “Only God Forgives” fails to offer the occasional cheap delights, most of which involve rampant bloodshed; the red-tinted scenes shot at the bordellos and seedy hotel rooms where much of the action takes place thoroughly enhance the grimy feel. Yet Refn appears more intent on making an actual cheesy fight movie in the stereotypical language of the genre rather than using it for his own means.

As a result, Gosling’s ability to riff on the exalting of the male body has been downgraded to prosaic stares and barely the semblance of personality. In one scene, he actively fingers the prostitute whom he eventually, maybe falls for, but even when aroused his face reads as if he’s been inexplicably lobotomized. This isn’t a bad performance; it’s not even acting in the traditional sense. Gosling has been downgraded to a prop.

READ MORE: Kristin Scott Thomas Talks ‘Only God Forgives’ at Cannes: ‘This kind of film is really not my thing’

Refn usually has tremendous success when it comes to developing off-kilter characters, as demonstrated by the near-literary depths of his “Pusher” trilogy and the similarly expressionistic Viking tale “Valhalla Rising,” which has much of the same eccentric brutality found in “Only God Forgives” but uses it to create a phantasmagorical alternate world. The new movie is too bogged down by rudimentary style gags to leave room for anything else. There are many deaths portrayed in unflinching, sometimes alarmingly grotesque details in “Only God Forgives,” but Gosling’s skill is its only true casualty. 

Criticwire grade: C

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Ben Tipple

Why is this review so focussed on Gosling? If anybody approaches this movie with only Gosling in mind, they aer bound to miss the point. The review itself points out that Gosling has been downgraded to a prop – perhaps that is the point. Perhaps we should be looking around the "lead" (although I would argue that there are two characters which easily surpass in lead status) at the merits of the film. A lead performance can definitely affect the quality of the film, but when that performance is not supposed to be the focal point, films can be more than one actor.


"oh, cool." let's you know he doesn't make films for everyone. If he did he'd direct Fast and the Furious type films. It's art. It's objective. I respect he does what he wants. It's independent and attractive. It's a fantasy you can't have when you aren't happy. Keep up the good work.


I managed to see the film at cannes and was absolutely blown away by it. It's been 2 days and I still can't get it out of my mind. It has the best cinematography I have seen from any film since the start of this millennium (not surprising at it is Kubrick's former DP , Larry Smith), and if you thought the soundtrack of drive was amazing, cliff Martinez's score will blow your mind .

I don't know what the reviewer was watching but I thought the acting was marvellously executed. Good acting does not always have to be over exuberant talkative roles, and Gosling shows so much emotion,pain and anguish through body language and in his facial expression that it can be easy to dismiss or gloss over by critics which understate it.

Regarding the violence, I don't think it's that big of deal. Yes it is hyper violent and features some of really gruesome images on film but the over reaction reminds me somewhat initial reactions to A clockwork orange. Critics tend to judge mold breaking films like these too quickly before its sunk in yet and mistakenly view it. (Cannes has a history of doing this. They also booed taxi driver and tree of life).

Overall I would say this is my favourite film of 2013 so far and I have no doubt that some of these critics will be eating their own words in the future when this film reaches wild cult status.


His script for How to Catch a Monster is sooo awful. Like a cheesy Twilight version of Blue Velvet but even dumber and worse than how that sounds.

moo boo

this writer will someday regret writing this stupid fugging review.


Smirking and fidgeting is his Schick, and it has indeed worn very thin…


And I don't see what his shtick is supposed to be. He was like this in 'Drive' (although it's not like his face was blank the whole time. Most of his expressions are pretty subtly different, but if you want a not-so-subtle example, look for the elevator scene), but he was completely different in Lars, Blue Valentine and Half Nelson. This shtick seems to be limited to his Refn collaborations, of which there are two.


I think he's one of the best actors of his generation, but yeah, he doesn't seem very good from the clips I've seen. Oh well, everyone's bound to have a dud once in a while.


He hasn't "avoided traditional blockbuster vehicles" – Gangster Squad?! (yeah, that was really highbrow, and his worst acting yet, by the way). He just hasn't been in a certifiably big hit movie. Ever.


This movie was lacking coherence. Your review brings this up.


There is no — repeat, no — "self-serious bleakness" in any Robert Bresson picture. What there is is genuine seriousness, which seems to terriby so many people now, especially in the film world.


Your review convinced to Avoid Gosling. Previous movies were a real disappointment


Your review convinced to Avoid Gosling. Previous movies were a real dissapointment


Wow wayy too much upfront info in this review. For those looking forward to this film, you could have easily skipped spilling plot points


Wow, even Indiewire is sick of Gosling. Never really liked him, can't say I'm not a little happy that more people are starting to realize that he's not that good.


One IndieWire critic likes it; one doesn't. The critics are divided. Par for the course for the best movies. It means it's a must see.


As one comment put it "The amount of relevance on this website has surely worn thin. Is this a serious community of columnists anymore? or just biased fan-boys?"


I Agree with your review but not with the generous grade this is beyond mediocre to paraphrase an early . comment. I do not understand the criteria by which Cannes measure the quality of the films they select to incorporate to the festival.


Your review is right on the money


He was never that great IMO (and he was equally mediocre and predictable in the heavy handed, disappointing "Pines"). He was more great at picking roles/films that suited him, which deluded people into thinking he was this great talent that he never was. And he hasn't resisted blockbusters (Gangster Squad and Crazy Stupid Love). Even in Half Nelson, Lars, and Blue Valentine, the films his fans always mention to his detractors, he relied more on his co-stars. But the bad, forgettable films are starting to pile up on him and he's been exposed.

The media/internet have played a huge part in hurting him too. It's impossible to watch him now and not hear "Hey Girl" and just laugh at him. He's become an internet joke.


This is the first of many bandwagon crap talk reviews to come. If I know Refn, "Only God Forgives" is a well crafted piece of art thats probably not viewer friendly, and due to that fact It'll get bad reviews. Everything in the film has a purpose, including Gosling's silence. This is from a film-makers perspective anyway…


"How 'Only God Forgives' suggests Ryan Goslings schtick has worn thin"? The amount of relevance on this website has surely worn thin. Is this a serious community of columnists anymore? or just biased fan-boys?


worn thin with Refn, maybe, but I sure as hell loved him in "Place Beyond the Pines". For some reason people think the only two movies Gosling ever acted in was "Drive" and "Only God Forgives"

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