When driving to a friends lavish party in the middle of the Moroccan desert in the dark, David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) accidentally hit a teenage boy. While the police aren’t interested, the next day the boy’s father arrives and asks David to return to his village for the burial. David reluctantly agrees while Jo stays at the mansion in the desert, partying the weekend away.
The Forgiven feels like the kind of lavish film for adults that you don’t tend to see as often nowadays. It’s a grown-up film that deals with a lot of unlikeable but interesting and complex characters and is also darkly funny at times too. Perhaps The Forgiven isn’t as great as I think it is but when superhero movies (which I tend to enjoy) are the bread and butter for cinemas, it’s great to see a film where the “morals” are complex and people are messy.
One of the fascinating things about The Forgiven is how no character really comes across well. There are moments of growth or change, or at least the start of potentially something better for them, but that doesn’t mean they completely stop saying bigoted things or start treating people better.
It’s honestly great to see so many multifaceted characters on screen and them being so messy that you’re never sure who is – or even if there is – the “good” person. David and Jo are arguing and appear to be in a stagnant marriage before the accident and at the first introductions to them both you’re more predisposed to like Jo rather than David. She comes across as the put-upon wife dealing with a functioning alcoholic of a husband and a man who doesn’t appear to have said anything politically correct in his life. As the plot unfolds though David starts to see the consequences of his actions meanwhile Jo is drinking, flirting and revelling in her new found freedom.
Richard (Matt Smith) is their friend and it’s his and his boyfriend’s, stylist Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), party and home the Henninger’s are at. Richard is one of the most likable in an unlikable bunch. He’s a posh, sassy toff but he seems to be one of the only people that has any amount of understanding and respect of the Moroccan culture and traditions. He and Dally have a staff made up of Moroccans and while the staff seem to not be able to stand Dally, there is sometimes signs of a grudging respect when it comes to Richard. That’s not to say he and his guests don’t say or do things that hurt the staff, just that he’s a bit more aware of what’s going on. That being said, the staff have some of the funniest lines and Hamid (Mourad Zaoui), Richard’s righthand man, is a fascinating character as he toes the line of silently judging the people he works for.
The whole cast is brilliant in their roles. It is a lot of fun seeing Matt Smith being catty and cruel, while Chastain and Fiennes’ verbal sparring is wonderful and the film does feel like it misses that when they’re a part for so long. Chastain is delightful as she lounges about with a wine glass in hand, delivering cutting remarks to anyone who comes too close.
The Forgiven is a tension-filled culture clash and it’s often morbidly funny too. It’s such an interesting and compelling film and one I’m really glad I saw in the cinema with a pretty full audience. 4/5.