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“Only God Forgives” is:

A) a tale of family values at their most toxic.

B) a display of sharp objects wielded with malign purposefulness.

C) an arresting exercise in visual stylishness.

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D) hard to sit through.

The latest picture from Danish enfant terrible Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) caused quite a stir at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it sparked boos and walkouts thanks to its violent content. Set in Bangkok, it’s a twisted tale of escalating vengefulness that is, by turns, fascinating and appalling.

Like “Drive,” it stars Ryan Gosling, this time playing an impenetrably impassive American drug dealer and fight promoter whose dissolute brother (Tom Burke) murders an underage Thai prostitute and is, in turn, battered to death by the girl’s enraged father. The cycle of vengeance kicks into overdrive with the arrival of the mother of the brothers. She’s a woman in the Lady Macbeth mold who makes Lady Macbeth seem like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Played with hair-raising ferocity by Kristin Scott Thomas, she wants her surviving son to bring the head of his brother’s killer to her on a platter. And she’s not speaking metaphorically.

Complicating the cycle is the fact that a high-ranking police official (Vithaya Pansringarm) helped facilitate Billy’s killing. He doesn’t take kindly to foreigners taking the law into their own hands. As it happens, he’s a handy guy with a sword and, well, limbs and appendages will be lopped off as this lawman lays down the law. And then afterward, there will be karaoke. (This is a very strange picture.)

“Only God Forgives” is heavily stylized (Winding Refn is very partial to blood-red lighting) and its pacing is painstakingly deliberate. Mixing mutilations, baleful stares, hideous screams, a studiedly inert performance by Gosling and a volcanic one by Scott Thomas, the picture is a peculiar hybrid: art house meets slaughterhouse.

Soren Andersen:

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