The behaviour of many of the characters in the movie The Forgiven certainly cries out for forgiveness.
The wealthy Americans and English who dominate much of the movie are some of the most selfish, unpleasant and uncaring people you would ever want to meet.
The movie’s protagonist, David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes), is the only person in the group who comes to realise how insensitive and uncaring they are.
Based on Lawrence Osborne’s book of the same name, The Forgiven tells of David, an English doctor, and his American wife of 12 years, Jo (Jessica Chastain), who are on their way to a party in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.
Travelling through the Sahara desert at night David hits and kills a young boy Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) after he suddenly appears on the road.
In the lead up to the accident David had been drinking heavily and when he hits Driss is speeding and in the midst of a heated discussion with Jo. Even before the accident it is clear both David and Jo aren’t particularly nice or culturally sensitive people and their marriage is under great stress.
The couple put Driss in their car and keep driving to the party hosted by Jo’s friend, the ultra-rich Richard (Matt Smith) and his lover Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), with the hope their hosts will be able to smooth things over. Richard does so thanks to his close relationship with the local police.
But then Driss’ grieving father Abdellah(Ismael Kanater), and his driver and translator Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui), arrive to claim the boy’s body. In line with local custom Abdellah insists David accompany him back to his village to help lay the boy to rest.
David reluctantly agrees to a two-day drive to the family home where Abdellah, his several wives and his only son Driss have spent their lives eking out a living by hunting fossils and selling them to rich Westerners. Here David sees a different side of life.
At the same time the extravagant and decadent party at Richard’s over the top mansion continues unabated with no one caring about the death of Driss. There doesn’t seem to be that much concern about David either, given he has disappeared into the desert with locals who could be out for revenge. And much of the desert they are travelling through is said to be ISIS controlled.
Jo’s lack of concern is such that she sleeps with Tom (Christopher Abbott), another guest at the party!
Much of The Forgiven is spent contrasting David’s time in the desert amid poverty and heartache with the opulence of Richard and Dally’s home and their party-goers debauched actions. Their complete lack of empathy for the local Moroccans is clearly evident. Locals include the very competent and perceptive house manager/translator Hamid (Mourad Zaoui) who has to deal with some of the house guests’ worst behaviours.
David’s time in the desert with Abdellah changes his attitude towards the locals and his culpability for the accident which ultimately leads to the movie’s climactic scene. This scene ends the movie adding to its impact. All the credits occur at the start of the film and the screen just goes to black.
While The Forgiven isn’t necessarily an easy movie to watch, given the uncaring nature of ‘Westerners’ and the poverty and heartbreak of the locals, the performance of the cast ensures it is involving.
Fiennes is a standout. His performance is pivotal to the film’s success in depicting the transformation of such an arrogant character. Chastain is also believable as an unhappy and unfulfilled wife while Kanater gives a great performance as a grieving father.
The performances of Taghmaoui and Zaoui and Smith and Jones perfectly illustrate the difference in attitudes and lifestyles between both ‘groups’ which writer/director John Michael McDonagh clearly wants to show.
The Forgiven is showing in Australian theatres from July 28.
- movie, review
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