Director & Screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh Runtime: 1h 57m Rated: R Studio: House of Un-American Activities Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Ismael Kanoter, Saïd Taghmaoui
Set in the middle of nowhere of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, a large group of rich white people attend a lavish weekend-long party. On the way, a local boy is run over in the dark, killing him.
Ralph Fiennes is David Menninger, a jaded London doctor; and a drunk. Jessica Chastain is vastly underutilized as Jo Menninger, David’s malcontent wife and sometimes novelist. For that matter, Matt Smith’s Richard, the party’s host, is given little to work with too. It’s a shame because they both have fantastic acting chops.
While Richard instructs David to be nice and seem sorry when the cops show up, he wonders why he should. The boy stepped in front of the car in the dark of night; how is it David’s fault? The boy is a nobody to him. But he relents as it’s Richard and his partner’s villa. No one wants the local cops looking too closely at the gay couple and their guest’s activities.
The trailer for The Forgiven implies way more drama and suspense than there is. That’s not to say the film isn’t filled with emotional subtext with gravitas and subtly. It is; coupled with racist, homophobic, and culturally inappropriate lines, which might be forgivable if the film’s story was more robust. After all, a story is all the events that, when appropriately arranged, show a straightforward plot. The plot is clear-ish, but it doesn’t answer the “why” about three prominent aspects of the film. Plot holes that ruin the whole point of a movie vex me.
At one point, the dead boy’s father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), arrives at the villa with two other men, one a translator (Taghmaoui). It is customary (apparently) for David to come with Abdellah to bury the boy. David thinks it’s a shakedown, or that they’re ISIS, that they’re going to kill him—all of the above. Richard gets David on board, and off he goes into the middle of nowhere. Everyone else gives in to champagne-guzzling, cocaine-fueled frivolity.
It’s when David leaves that the audience gets a clearer, more purposefully depicted show of the cultural divide between these Western elitist twats and the Muslim desert locals.
The weekend-long guilt trip finally gets to David—showing he’s not just a drunken racist is asking too much of even an actor with Ralph Fiennes skillset. Why? For this established character’s character, it’s utterly unbelievable! More likely, he’s channeled his deep need for a drink (after going without for a few days) into something other than anger/contempt. He still thinks he’s going to die.
The ending doesn’t go with the rest of the film’s tone. The Forgiven is very much a juxtaposition of two cultures. Still, the film’s final act shifts too much to an artsy avant-garde feeling. That feeling does not blend well with the rest of the movie’s tone and established awful characters.
The Forgiven had potential, but there are too many rough edges to make it worth watching, so skip putting it on your watchlist.
-A Pen Lady