The Forgiven is the latest splashy narrative to be released about the tensions between the elite and the working class, mixing all the elements of a thriller, dark comedy and psychological thriller to no avail in this frustrating film. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Forgiven aims to make comment on a few social issues that sadly doesn’t go deep enough to have enough of an impact.
Based on the novel by Lawrence Osborne, a married couple, American Jo (Jessica Chastain) and British David (Ralph Fiennes), argue about the poor and the “coloured” as they venture across Morrocco for a party thrown by some friends (Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones) that expected to go all weekend. That is until they accidentally hit and run over a local boy on the way.
Now with a body on the road and a cast of wealthy, white people thrown into disarray as they must connect with the locals who exist in the world outside their walls , the film avoids exploring the dilemma of the situation and instead sends David on a journey to the home of the deceased to atone for his actions. Meanwhile, Jo enjoys her time without her husband and sees her own morals and ethics begin to waver in the wake of the experience. The divergence of both the characters after the accident shows the vapidness of the world in which they inhabit and how it transforms them in unusual ways.
The script is best during its dialogue moments, with characters who throw barbs and insults around, with little consideration of those around them, and you can tell that the novel is likely expansive and explores the issues in depth. Some characters feel like comic relief during scenes, which feels off given the overall nature of the film and doesn’t allow their impact to be felt. Some tension around the Moroccan people, in the wake of ISIS and 9/11, also feels unsubstantiated and could have been better explored.
Chastain does the best with what is available, though the script could have done more for her. Her freedom from her husband is palpable through the screen and her chemistry with Christopher Abbott is entirely believable. Her transformation and emancipation are seen on her face during key scenes. Fiennes is the awful, crass British man whose one-liners are reminiscent of an intelligent Donald Trump and whose eventual journey leads to an interesting conclusion. He manages to make it feel like less of a caricature than it would have appeared on stage.
Unfortunately, the end of the film doesn’t equal or make up for all the moments that come before. As the tone changes between characters from anger, sadness, freedom, frustration and uneasiness, the final turn feels devoid of emotion and undermines what came before. There’s a strong film in there, just waiting to come out. And that’s unforgivable.