Director: John Michael McDonagh
House of Un-American Activities Productions and Brookstreet Pictures
In theaters 07.01
It has been more than 25 years since Ralph Fiennes went on an Oscar hunt in the desert with The English Patientand It was inevitable that Fiennes would return one day, in search of gold. The Forgiventhe new film from writer-director John Michael McDonagh, doubles the prestigious roux credit by adding Jessica Chastainalthough this time Fiennes chose to drive instead of fly.
The Forgiven begins with a wealthy London couple, David and Jo Henninger (Fiennes and Chastain, respectively) crossing the Moroccan desert at night on their way to an extravagant weekend party. David got drunk and the couple argued. When a local teenager, Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), comes out right in front of their speeding car, David hits and kills the boy. The couple have no choice but to arrive late for the party, bringing a dead body with them, as the bakery has already sold the last chocolate babka.
David tries to cover up the unfortunate incident with the help of the local police and frivolous party hosts, Dickie (Matt Smith, Doctor Who) and her boyfriend, Dally (Caleb Landry Jones, Bullfinch, Nitram), who aren’t about to let a little thing like car manslaughter get in the way of a good party. When the dead boy’s father, Abdellah (Ishmael Kana, 24, The pilgrims), shows up to seek justice, things get a bit tense. Before the weekend is over, more than one life will never be the same.
Adapted from the acclaimed 2012 novel by Lawrence Osbourne, The Forgiven is both a dark and satirical morality piece and a social commentary, which aims to explore the divide between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. European and American elite revelers see locals as employees at best, potential members of ISIS at worst, and barely human. Similarly, the Moroccan characters derisively regard the infidels among them as stupid and decadent Westerners, tainted by sin. There’s enough judgment and perceived superiority on both sides to make it all look remarkably like Utah, and there’s no likable character in the group – they’re interesting, though, and the further the story progresses , more The Forgiven begins to captivate his audience.
Fiennes is fascinating as an insensitive and selfish “high-functioning alcoholic” who is gradually forced to face the possibility that he may have done something wrong. Chastain, in her first major role since winning an Oscar for Tammy Faye’s eyes, commands the screen as always, and it’s fascinating to watch the initially mortified Jo grow more and more detached from the reality of the situation, giving in to the need to escape into the festivities and her own desires, much like the odious David is forced to face things head-on. Smith is evil like Dickie, which gives us the impression that he has both wisdom and worldly awareness, which he can turn on and off as he sees fit. Always reliable Said Taghmaoui (three kings, wonder woman) is exceptional as David’s driver. Overall, it’s Fiennes and Kana who make the film soar, and every moment they share on screen left me transfixed. The Forgiven has a lot to say about the numbing effect our choices have on how we perceive ourselves and others, how it colors our ideas of what is acceptable under the right circumstances.
The Forgiven is an engaging, visually lavish film that’s filled with unforgettable performances and a seemingly shallow perspective that deceptively hides layers of intriguing ideas from audiences. If you’re looking for a tongue-in-cheek, provocative film that will give you something to talk about after leaving the theater, you won’t forgive yourself if you miss this one. –Patrick Gibbs
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