Some critics will doubtlessly declare Only God Forgives to be a prickly kind of cinematic masterpiece. I'm not one of them. At the press screening I attended, every time a gruesome act of violence played out on-screen—which is to say, very often—several critics burst out laughing. And so if gory scenes of stabbing and shooting and torture make you break out in titters, especially when those scenes fall between long, pointless (but beautiful!) shots of sad people walking slowly down empty hallways, you're in for a great time.
This is basic noir stuff: Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his brother are American expatriates living in Thailand. After Julian's brother is killed, their monstrous mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes to town to goad her son into exacting vengeance on the killer and the sword-wielding policeman who let the killer go. There's not much plot, because this is an exercise in tone: The first half of the movie, with its saturation of red lights and long, wistful shots of Gosling making fists, could practically be a perfume commercial. (At least you can't accuse Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling of trying to duplicate the success of Drive.) There is definitely an audience out there willing to watch long, silent scenes of Ryan Gosling staring sadly at things—a masturbating woman, his own fists, a wall, some martial artists—but those same people probably won't enjoy the film's themes of incest, pedophilia, and sudden graphic violence.
But now I'm being too harsh. There are some great scenes here, buried in all the pretension and intentional off-puttingness. Scott Thomas is hilarious. A few of the brutal moments are thrilling. And every shot is a gorgeous painting of texture and light. Ultimately, Only God Forgives feels like a scattered collection of memorable moments, waiting to be hacked to pieces and remastered on YouTube by ADD-addled Gosling fans.