'Only God Forgives' Reviews: Ryan Gosling's Latest With Nicolas Winding Refn Gets Heat From Critics; Screening Booed

When Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn last teamed for a film, the result was "Drive," a hyper-violent and critically beloved dreamscape that earned rave reviews at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and won Refn the Best Director trophy from the festival's jury. Judging from the early response to "Only God Forgives," the pair's latest collaboration, don't expect a repeat.

"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," wrote Peter Debruge for Variety, a slam that seems almost quaint in comparison to the vitriol posted by Hollywood Elsewhere proprietor Jeff Wells:

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.

Set in Thailand, "Only God Forgives" focuses on Julian (Gosling), a small-time criminal who runs an boxing club in Bangkok. After his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is brutally murdered by a police captain named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Julian seeks revenge at the behest of his Lady Macbethian mother (Kristin Scott Thomas).

"Refn has made a name for himself with spartan narratives, but there's maybe even less story on offer here than before, and what there is feels kind of crammed into the last third of the film," wrote Jessica Kiang in her review for The Playlist. "[W]ith no truly relatable characters to compel us along between the occasional (glorious) fight or maiming scene, layers of style are lavished on in a threadbare plot a way that feels like they're compensating for a lack."

To that end, Refn explained what he was going for with "Only God Forgives" during a press conference after the screening:

The idea of Julian's character was a man who was on some sort of journey but he did not know what he is going towards. We spoke about the character of the sleep walker, destined to move, who does not know where he going. He is bound and chained to his mother's womb. To release that he has to go through several levels of violence. Why doesn't he speak? Maybe because the language of silence is far more potent.

At least one critic, however, seems to have got what Refn was trying to accomplish.

"'Only God Forgives' will, understandably, have people running for the exits, and running for the hills. It is very violent, but Winding Refn's bizarre infernal creation, an entire created world of fear, really is gripping," wrote Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw in his five-star review. "Every scene, every frame, is executed with pure formal brilliance. I'm afraid it's going to be even nastier the next time I watch it."

For more on why Gosling wasn't able to attend the Cannes Film Festival to support "Only God Forgives," click here. "Only God Forgives" reviews and reactions can be found in the tweets below.

"Only God Forgives" is out in U.S. theaters on July 19.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES is stylized to the point of parody. But it isn't a parody. Not for me.

— Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman6) May 22, 2013

Someone tell NW Refn that glorious production design & GIF-ready close ups do not make a film. #OnlyGodForgives

— Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman6) May 22, 2013

Ryan Gosling only has 17 lines in Only God Forgives. #Cannes2013

— Matt Patches (@misterpatches) May 22, 2013

Cannes Film Festival