In his follow up to Drive, one of my favorite films, Refn takes a look at the seedy underbelly of Bangkok to mostly great results.
There's a serious dip in quality from Drive when it comes to the narrative but OGF is an exceptionally well photographed and acted film, even if Refn doesn't reach the heights of his past triumph. The real flaw here is the lack of characters you actually want to root for. These are some truly despicable humans on display.
Then again perhaps that's the point. Not every story needs to have characters you like or even respect for that matter, some people are just wretched and OGF is proof of that.
Gosling is great as usual, bringing his now trademark stare to almost every scene, even moreso than he did in Drive. It works here though, as the character of Julian seems off-kilter from the start, an aspect that becomes cemented once his domineering mother enters the film. Kristen Scott Thomas is completely insane in this film and it might be the best performance of the bunch. She's a cold, hard bitch who couldn't give two shakes what anyone thinks of her and even though she isn't likeable in the least, her command of the screen makes up for it.
This is a film where even the apparent good guy, a cop named Chang who wields a mean sword, is despicable in the way he goes about serving justice. Vithaya Pansringarm plays one tough dude who isn't afraid to beat you with his bare hands and then go out for a little karaoke. After the twisted nature of Thomas it was shocking to find that Chang might be just slightly more twisted.
This is a great film, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The cinematography is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, which is striking with a story so dark and unsettling. Cliff Martinez returns for another round as Refn's composer and I would dare say that his score here is more impressive than his output for Drive. This is a loud film and a good set of speakers is highly recommended.
Is Only God Forgives better than Drive? No, of course not, very few things are, that's just science. Does it stand on its own? Certainly. This is a crazy film that only gets crazier the more you think about it.