The Forgiven, 2022.
Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh.
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbey Lee, Christopher Abbott, Marie-Josée Croze, Alex Jennings, Saïd Taghmaoui, David McSavage, Mourad Zaoui, Imane Elmechrafi, Ben Affan, Ismael Kanater, Anas El Baz, Brianna Bella, Omar Ghazaoui, and Abdellah Chakiri.
The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.
It’s clear whether we are supposed to be laughing at aspects or finding emotional attachment to The Forgiven. Given that the director is John Michael McDonagh (War on Everyone, and The Cavalry), it’s probably intended to be a mixture of both, but the execution is so dry and empty that for large stretches of the movie, nothing interesting is actually happening beyond a change in personality for the central characters. These shifts are the opposite of subtle, with the characters coming across as a questionable creative choice for receiving primary focus.
Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain play a wealthy married couple vacationing in Morocco. To say that the relationship is on the fritz would be an understatement, as she is tired of him going about his day as a functioning alcoholic. Worse off, he has arrived in this part of the world with no respect for the culture and copious racist remarks regarding the locals.
After a long day of sightseeing and bickering, the couple find themselves with David drunkenly driving and speeding on an empty desert road deep into the night, only to crash into and murder an innocent local during the height of the arguing with Jo. Instead of preparing to accept accountability, David is more concerned with burying the man’s ID and covering up every trace of evidence possible that would disprove his fabrication of this incident being a freak accident.
Soon after, they arrive at their filthy rich friend Richard Galloway’s (Matt Smith) extravagant house party, where they confess details of what happened. The police get involved but conclude that the death was an accident. David (and Jo, who is technically an accessory to murder) are not out of the woods yet, though, as the young man’s father, Abdellah Taheri (Ismael Kanater), also shows up and explains that it’s customary for David to return to their impoverished town to help bury the body. Naturally, David shuts them down, at least until some fearful pondering that no one knows who this family has connections to and that his life could be in danger if he declines the favor being asked.
From there, The Forgiven splinters often into two stories; the first is about a man coming to terms with the tragedy he caused and sincerely trying to shed some of his regressive mindsets while seeking forgiveness. It’s the lamest, most insufferable route the screenplay from John Michael McDonagh (based on a novel by Lawrence Osborne) could have gone, centering whiteness in the most tired way instead of how this affects the locals. Meanwhile, the somewhat likable Jo gradually lets loose without being around David, eventually starting up an affair with an American traveler played by Christopher Abbott.
The one upside to watching Jessica Chastain go through this liberation is the budget of the party sequences, which are extravagant and inviting. However, these scenes usually eventually wind up with characters talking about nothing (I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Richard Galloway is gay and has a relationship with Caleb Landry Jones’ Dally Margolis, which feels like it’s set up to play into local bigotry but never amounts to much beyond wealthy foreigners appropriating the land).
Admittedly, Ralph Fiennes is quite good at portraying David’s changes with nuance, but that doesn’t make The Forgiven compelling. The entire experience is wrongheaded and lacking in substance, although I assume we will forgive John Michael McDonagh one day.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com