Julian, the blank centre of Only God Forgives, makes the anonymous hero of Drive look like a blabbermouth. He is a man of so few words that being an American ex-pat in Bangkok hardly seems like a handicap. He could have learned what he needs of the Thai language in an afternoon.

He runs a boxing club as a front for illegal activities. His brother Billy (Tom Burke) is a violent sociopath who combs the underworld for prostitutes to abuse. When Billy’s latest victim doesn’t make it out alive, Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) is called in to close the case.

Chang’s brand of justice requires compensation in the form of severed limbs. Called the “Angel of Death” by locals, he may be more than a liaison from the afterlife — he may be one of its ruling denizens, a being of immeasurable power and limited mercy. There are subtle suggestions of his divinity, and true to its title, Only God Forgives begs to be fully broken down as a spiritual allegory. I’ll leave that to more capable hands.

The boys' mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) flies in to identify the body. Billy was clearly her favourite son and she will not allow his death to go unavenged. You can imagine what that means. The Oscar-nominated actress is here transformed into a reptilian Mob wife with a mean streak toward her surviving son. She also makes the crucial mistake of insulting the locals.

Only God Forgives is director Nicholas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling’s much-anticipated follow-up to Drive. It is set to confuse and alienate a portion of that film’s fanbase. While I’ve described it in terms of linear progression, it is truthfully a perplexing work about elliptical characters in surreal situations. I’ve told you what happens but not how or why, for which I don’t have any answers. I left my first viewing disoriented, but wanting to see it again, quickly.

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
eOne, 90 minutes

Rating: 4/5