Halfway through The Forgiven – a fussy dark comedy embedded in a soothing but somber spiritual journey – David (Ralph Fiennes) visits the village of the Moroccan boy he murdered with his car a few days earlier. While David sulks in his victim’s humble home, his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain) celebrates just a few miles away in a lavish desert mansion, surrounded by the bitchy elite. This is a film that seeks to skewer the rich in two ways: through David’s confrontation with his disgusting actions, and through his hedonistic friends revealing their worst selves. Both tones never match.
Adapted from Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name, The Forgiven recalls Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy in the early stages of writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s sleepy satire. Curmudgeon David, an alcoholic doctor who was recently sued by a patient over a botched diagnosis, and his younger wife Jo, a children’s book author, bicker over a road trip to the luxury mansion of their wealthy friend Richard (Matt Smith). loud, spoiled friend Dally (Caleb Landry Jones).
The couple drive aimlessly through the Sahara Desert in search of Richard’s remote home. As David speeds around a dusty bend, a local boy named Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) jumps onto the road and is killed by David’s car. When they arrive at Richard’s, Jo is shaken; David is distant, almost annoyed at the inconvenience. Despite Richard paying the local police, the boy’s father shows up the next day. To atone, he asks David to accompany the boy’s body to be buried in their village while Jo stays behind. Faced with fewer options, David ignores the dangers – in his sickening words, “You could be ISIS” – and caves in.
Through this tragedy, McDonagh seeks to convey the callousness of colonialism: it is significant that Richards’ other guests – a jaded French photographer (Marie-Josée Croze), a British lord (Alex Jennings) and a philandering American financial analyst (Christopher Abbott), eyeing Jo — living in countries with an imperialist past. The local servants overhear their tacky talk about Moroccan bestiality; You see these humiliated whites consuming their cultural foods and artifacts while tossing around nasty barbs (thankfully the servants get little revenge bits). For those who enjoy wickedness, the scenes can offer a biting, cathartic release. For others, the runway for such diatribes will be short.
David and Jo’s verbally contentious relationship adds to the fractious tone, but Fiennes and Chastain feel like they’re in different films. He’s a Brit with a stiff upper lip, and she’s aping Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert. The two styles create a kind of friction that work together but struggle to catch fire in scenes where they’re apart, especially for recent Oscar winner Chastain.
She’s stuck at the party that serves as the backdrop for David’s regretful sojourn in a beguiling but decaying desert setting. His rugged exterior begins to fade as he learns more about Driss from his grieving father (a visceral Ismael Kanater). The family subsidizes their income by digging for fossils in the desert and selling them to the West. This economic system has a blood diamond aspect that favors the poverty stricken populace who risk their lives to sell their natural treasures to devious westerners. And a sober David begins to see his own role.
While The Forgiven isn’t about making David a better person—rather about getting him to fully understand his guilt—McDonagh’s methods don’t set the film apart from the long list of stories about white people who people learn lessons at the expense of Braun. Higher ideals may have been in mind, but “The Forgiven” fails to achieve them gracefully.
valuation:R, for continuous speech, drug use, some sexual content, and brief violence
Duration: 1 hour, 57 minutes
To play: General release on July 1st
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-06-30/the-forgiven-review-fiennes-chastain ‘The Forgiven’ review: Fiennes, Chastain in eat-the-rich satire