THE FORGIVEN, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (CALVARY), is flying under the radar despite having an all star cast of Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, and Matt Smith. And I am pretty sure I know why. Despite an attempt to satirically skewer the 1%, colonialism, and the appalling way the West views Arab culture, the film never really hits the mark tonally. And on top of that, a large part of the film is quite frankly boring, endangering losing the audience and the overall point of the film.
Based off of Laurence Osborne’s book, THE FORGIVEN follows married couple Jo (Chastain) and David (Fiennes) Henninger, who are vacationing in Morocco. As the couple begins heading to a friend’s luxurious villa in the desert, you quickly realize their relationship is on the rocks. I’m not sure if it’s the drunk driving or the bickering that first alert to trouble in paradise, but on their car ride in David accidentally hits and kills a young Arab man with his car.
When the couple arrives at the villa, they are greeted by a lavish, raucous party of people dressed in tuxedos (yes, in the desert) that look similarly to them. When they inform their host (Smith) about the incident, the police are called and without a significant investigation, the Henninger’s are cleared of any wrongdoing. But when the young man’s father comes to claim his son’s body, he demands David come to his home to help bury his son. David agrees, despite Jo’s concerns that they may be “ISIS”, and the film splits into David’s journey to earn forgiveness versus Jo’s dalliances while her husband is away.
I am a diehard Jessica Chastain fan and while she is the most entertaining part of the movie (no surprise), not even her fun costumes and attitude were enough to keep me fully engaged. Fiennes is also good in a much more serious role and character arc, which arguably makes it feel he is acting in a separate movie from Chastain. This is especially true when the film splits into two distinct storylines that almost make you feel as though you’re watching two different movies.
The film also skirts the line of satirizing the West’s view of Arab identity and culture, while also falling into the trap of sidelining Arab characters and using them as a foil to show a white character’s redemption arc. If that was intentional, it certainly didn’t come across as such.
Sadly, I would be surprised if THE FORGIVEN is able to find its audience, despite its fantastic cast. Speaking from experience, I fear many viewers will rent this when they see Chastain and Fiennes on the poster, but will inevitably be disappointed.
My Review: C-