The Forgiven is one of those movies that was just playing at the right time I needed it to. I had no idea what it was about, I just wanted popcorn and movie therapy.
The film stars Ralph Fiennes (David) and Jessica Chastain (Jo) as a married couple heading to a weekend long party at a lavish home in the Moroccan dessert. While en route, they have an unfortunate accident with a local boy which results in them bringing more than their marriage troubles to their hosts.
Matt Smith is perfection as the nonchalant yet mildly concerned host Richard Galloway. Along with his partner Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), he offers assistance while mostly considering the needs of his many other eccentric guests. This includes one constantly obnoxious drunk girl who must’ve meant something. Generally the whole crowd struggles to provide any agreeable personalities.
The story tries to be deeper with hints of cultural and political commentary, but it doesn’t develop into anything important. Really it’s just about a high-functioning drunk white guy who has gotten away with poor behavior for years. His wife reminds him of this with little jabs and eye rolls, each one so obviously repetitive, the wall between them keeps growing.
Once David has gone off with the boys’ father to pay his respects, Jo starts to relax and enjoy herself more. Here is where she shines. Her posture changes along with the flowing wardrobe – a sense of freedom. Chastain’s performance is sexy and inviting, and she has great chemistry with fellow escapist Tom (Christopher Abbott). Their scenes make the film a bit better (and had me googling Christopher Abbott so I can see him again). But there’s not enough.
David’s journey to the middle of the dessert should have felt curious, remorseful or at least suspenseful but instead it was long and boring. I’m not sure what writer/director John Michael McDonagh was going for here. It did feel hot and thirsty. Maybe just realizing how pretentious David is – not truly believing that anything could happen to him.
I’m not going to like all the movies. But I still like to make connections and take away some thoughts. Mostly I keep thinking about how we never really get to know any of these characters. The broad strokes provide little identity beyond occupation or race, so motivation and reconciliation are also lost. Hard to forgive a messy story when we don’t see past the surface.