Reviews provided by RottenTomatoes
The collision of violent spasms and art-film ennui leave the viewer's brain bloody but unfilled.
New York Magazine/Vulture:
I thought it was just about the worst ... thing I've ever seen. In fact, I was depressed it wasn't laughed off the screen.
Once you get past its slick veneer, you may find yourself looking at your watch, even though it clocks in at a concise 89 minutes.
New York Times:
What is on Mr. Refn's mind? Here is what he says in a director's note: "The original concept for the film was to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God." All right. Whatever.
New York Observer:
Part schlockfest, part campy fairy tale, this is a movie that begs you to bring your own barf bag.
Wall Street Journal:
Nicolas Winding Refn's excruciatingly-though definitively-pretentious exercise in ritual violence gives chiaroscuro a bad name.
God may forgive you for seeing this needlessly brutal film. But you won't forgive yourself.
The wallpaper emotes more than Ryan Gosling does in Only God Forgives, an exercise in supreme style and minimal substance from Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn.
The results are sometimes striking, in pure visual terms, but rarely engaging; even as a brutish saga of underworld retribution, the film fails to get the heart pounding.
It's not that overwrought violence and human depravity are unfit grist for art, but without a compelling plot and a modicum of character development, all this film has to offer is a repugnant prurience and heavy-handed atmospherics.
"Only God Forgives" is the kind of remarkable disaster only a very talented director can make after he finds success and is then allowed to do whatever he wants.
J. R. Jones,
As always, Refn's style is captivating, but the fascination with extreme gore never amounts to more than a fetish, and there's none of the deft characterization that made his revered Pusher trilogy and British biopic Bronson so engaging.
This is the worst, least, dumbest picture made by people of talent this year ...
Refn seems to have some issues he needs to work out, and "Only God Forgives" does as well. If it doesn't quite get all the way there, at least it's an interesting mess.
It's a solemnly preposterous piece of designer revenge pulp, with actors who stand around bathed in red and blue light like David Lynch mannequins in between scenes of torture and murder.
There's an old expression in musical theater - you don't leave humming the lights.
Directors are always digging around in their psyches for material - David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Lars von Trier ... Refn's anxiety seems out to top theirs. But there's no joy or folly or transcendence. It's a one-dimensional video game of death.
A menacingly atmospheric mood piece that will not disappoint devotees of the Nicolas Winding Refn church of fetishistic hyper-violence.
Los Angeles Times:
God only knows what Nicolas Winding Refn had in mind when he made "Only God Forgives."
Mocking the improbable characters and bizarre juxtapositions is too literal and superficial a reading of this dreamy, entrancing movie.
The New Republic:
This is a ludicrous, showy film, and we are left to reconcile those two antagonistic qualities, or get out.
Is Refn really tendering his grandly named film as a religious parable? If so, I'll pass.
New York Post:
What makes it high art? The fact that it happens really slowly, I think, or that it's interspersed with patience-testing camera pans of wallpaper.
Where Drive shrewdly mystifies, Only God Forgives stupefies. You can see its gears grinding. But I'll always hang on for a rare talent like Refn. Even when he stumbles, he leaves you eager to see what he's up to next.
Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Ryan Gosling and his "Drive" director, Nicolas Winding Refn, sail into the heart of darkness and emerge with a trinket of crackpot porno kitsch.
The film succeeds to some extent as a pure stylistic exercise, with a few fine Lynchian moments blurring reality with erotic and violent fantasies.
It's possibly the least glamorous and also least interesting role Gosling has ever had. It's not likely to expand his fan base much, or Refn's for that matter.
Style over substance doesn't really tell the half of it: you can bathe a corpse in groovy light and dress it in an expensive suit, but in the end that rotting smell just won't go away.
Refn clearly thinks he's saying something profound with this laboriously overproduced dross, and I'm content to let him go on thinking.
It's a genre picture with an art-housey structure, an instance of Refn and the normally phenomenal Gosling trying too hard to make an ultra-violent movie that's also, you know, tasteful.
The most objectionable thing about Only God Forgives isn't that it's shocking or immoral, but that it's so finally, fatally dull.
The more arts-minded drag queens will be doing [Kristin Scott Thomas] this Halloween.