The Forgiven

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Distributed by: Vertical Entertainment

Written by Taylor Baker

40/100

“The Forgiven” stars a weasely and wealthy Ralph Fiennes as David Henninger alongside his wife Jo Henninger (Jessica Chastain) as they visit an old friend’s mid-desert Mansion in Morocco. That friend Richard Galloway is played by Matt Smith who shares a bed with Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones). McDonagh using this North African desert backdrop fashions a moral tale around sexuality, death, and classicism without ever really wading too profoundly into any particular genre’s feeling. 

The central event on which the film is predicated is a car crash in the early portion of the film where a young man dies. The rest of the film more or less is about these characters coming to terms with the consequences of the event which we’re supposed to believe forces them to reexamine their own lives and situations. The screenplay teeters wearily between satirical comedy and dour drama without conjuring depth to either, remaining a hackneyed impression instead of a full-throated demonstration.

There’s a sense of respect for the culture depicted, and an underlying push you can practically hear saying “we are all the same”. But the arbitrary feeling that the mansion sequences and conversations each contain don’t seem to build on the themes that McDonagh is aiming for. Establishing vapidity in the group and convincing the audience that these are high-class individuals of class and culture comes across as empty. Not necessarily because of anything McDonagh did wrong, but perhaps due to the distance we feel from each character on screen.

Chastain through little fault of McDonagh never seems to actually be Jo, but rather a recognizable actress lounging beside a pool having an affair while her husband is away. Fiennes likewise is unconvincing in his character’s turnaround and regret by the film’s end. It’s the rare moral tale where you’re the same as when you began. Which is perhaps one of the hallmarks of a bad film, when you’ve begun to forget it as soon as it ends.

“The Forgiven” Trailer

“The Forgiven” is available to rent and purchase on VOD.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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