The Forgiven review: a well-known journey worth taking

Under the control of a less capable filmmaker, the forgiven could very easily have been a boring movie. It’s a testament to the talent of writer-director John Michael McDonagh that it isn’t. In fact, while there are times when the forgiven The film runs at a captivating pace for most of its 117 minutes, while McDonagh’s ear for conversation and his impeccably written scenes tend to get boring. That may come as a surprise, since the forgiven‘s subject.

Set in Morocco, the film follows a group of wealthy elites who gather over a weekend to party in a desert complex. However, their event is complicated when David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain), accidentally run over a young Moroccan boy when he steps in front of their car while on their way to the film’s central party. When the dead boy’s father, Abdellah (Ismael Kanater), arrives to retrieve his son’s body, he demands that David travel to the Moroccan desert to bury his son with him. David reluctantly agrees.

From that moment on, the forgiven begins to follow two separate storylines: David’s journey through the desert and the feast his friends and wife enjoy while he is gone. By focusing on both perspectives, McDonagh is able to effectively juxtapose the film’s carefree, gratuitous celebration of the film’s wealthy elites with the difficult emotional and physical realities of what life can be like for the impoverished Moroccan citizens. McDonagh uses that juxtaposition to flip the forgiven to a quasi-social satire, but while the film-maker’s observations are often just as precise and revealing, they don’t amount to much in the end.

An accident in the desert

Roadside attractions, 2022

The good news is that, even if the forgiven‘s conversations end up nowhere, they are still wonderfully fun to watch unfold. In one of the opening scenes of the film, Jo van Chastains sees Jo passive-aggressively calling Fiennes’ David a “highly functioning alcoholic”, only for him to reply by saying, “I’ve always thought the ‘highly functioning’ part was the ‘alcoholic’ part, and that moment is an effective encapsulation of what every conversation is in the forgiven is like. The film’s characters are constantly throwing thin barbs at each other, ironically acknowledging their mistakes without ever giving up an inch of ground.

McDonagh has always been good at writing dialogue, and he brings that skill to full force the forgiven† The film’s cast, which includes some of the best performers working today, don’t pass up the opportunity to sink their teeth into McDonagh’s words. Caleb Landry Jones and Christopher Abbott, for example, wink at their lines and emphasize the absurdity of their characters’ actions more than any of their co-stars. It is Matt Smith who ultimately appears to have the best ear for McDonagh’s dialogue.

As Richard Galloway, the gay man who organizes the party that throws Jo and David’s lives upside down, Smith is delightful, hilariously droll and casual. His Richard is the most self-assured and unabashed of the movie’s elites, which is just another way of saying that he understands the unsavoryness of his behavior and that of his friends, but still thoroughly enjoys taking part in their antics. A host with a penchant for provocation, Richard spends most of the film lovingly and slyly pointing the hypocrisy of his friends in their faces, and Smith delivers every line with the same casual grin and relaxed demeanor.

An honorable journey

Roadside attractions, 2022

It’s Fiennes’ David who ultimately has to struggle with the most dramatic weight in the forgiven although. Unlike Richard van Smith, who likes to stay in one job for the entire film, David is forced to go on an emotional and physical journey over the course of the film. the forgiven‘s story. At the start of the film, he’s essentially the walking embodiment of white British privilege, but the more time he spends with Abdellah, the father of the poor boy he murdered as a result of his own arrogant recklessness, the more David begins to despise it. to feel the weight of his own existence.

Through his conversations with Abdellah’s right-hand man, Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui), David begins to understand the gravity of what he has done. As a result, the character’s self-righteous, sardonic demeanor is eventually replaced by an overwhelmingly grim sense of shame, and Fiennes, to his credit, plays David’s transformation beautifully. Fiennes, of course, has long been one of Hollywood’s most capable performers, but his confident, subtle work in the forgiven serves as a powerful reminder of that fact.

Sadly, David’s transformation from an indifferent wealthy elite to a man sympathetic to those he previously considered below him is one we’ve seen a thousand times before. While the film does its best to embrace the perspective of the Moroccan characters, it is David’s journey that ultimately emerges as the heart and soul of the forgiven – a fact that only makes his transformation more tired. The dull familiarity of his journey, in turn, robs the film of much of its dramatic weight.

A weightless apology

David and Richard face off against Abdellah and Hamid in The Forgiven.
Roadside attractions, 2022

Seen how hard-edged and smooth sharp so much of it? the forgiven is, it’s hard not to feel when you watch that McDonagh is about to turn David’s journey upside down with some sort of subversive twist. But that moment never comes. Instead, McDonagh brings the film’s story to a conclusion that doesn’t feel nearly as powerful or poetic as it should be. It’s an ending that feels like it should evoke the same misplaced brutality that McDonagh created at the end of his stunning 2014 drama, Cavalrybut it doesn’t match the weight of that movie’s ending nonetheless.

That’s disappointing, considering how accurate and observant everything leads to the forgiven‘s lame conclusion. The film’s failure to bring anything new to a worn-out subject therefore makes it more like a collection of well-deserved sour observations than a scorching or provocative morality tale. For some, that is a sin that can be forgiven. But like a heartfelt apology you’ve heard a thousand times before, the forgiven tells a story that is sadly less than the sum of its well-crafted parts.

the forgiven opens in cinemas from Friday 1 July.

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