Privilege and mischief of the white variety are at the centre of The Forgiven, a satirical, oft compelling drama that enjoys playing with the questionable morality of archetypical terrible people.
Off to enjoy a weekend of debauchery in the Moroccan desert, married couple David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) are far from the picture of wedded bliss as they take thinly veiled shots at one another over their exotic travels.
Under the influence and unsure of their route, David ends up hitting someone on the darkened road – a Moroccan teenager, Driss (Omar Ghazaoui). David maintains it was an accident, claiming the boy jumped out in front of the car. Driss’s death and the following consequences proceed to claim much of The Forgiven‘s 117 minute running time from hereon, with David reluctantly agreeing to return to Driss’s home village with his distressed father (Ismael Kanater, incredible), whilst Jo unwinds at the expansive villa, hardly playing the concerned wife in the meantime.
As serious as John Michael McDonagh’s narrative is, there’s a dark, nasty sense of humour lacing each interaction. When David agrees to travel with Driss’s father to bury his son in his village, he worries that he may be injured or killed. Party host Richard (a deliciously wicked Matt Smith) offsets his worries with a snide remark about being raped instead.
The dual storyline temperament of The Forgiven also speaks to its dramatic-cum-humorous personality. David’s storyline presents a sort of spiritual awakening for the perennial cynic, whilst Jo, dressed to the nines as she soaks up the atmosphere, falls easily into the conversational prowess (and, eventually, bedroom) of American analyst Tom (Christopher Abbott); their first kiss met with a clinking glass cheers from Richard and his partner, Dally (Caleb Landry Jones, a riot), suggesting the seduction may have been pre-planned on their end.
The different perspectives of what took place during Driss’s accident and the various tales of Richard’s school days – wild stories that may or may not be true – means The Forgiven is consistently a film toying with perspective. There’s a certain superficiality to it all, with the dialogue feeling particularly exaggerated at times, but that seems to entirely be McDonagh’s point. There’s a depth here, but they refuse to acknowledge so because it’s just easier to exist in the shallow.
Beautifully captured and superbly performed – Fiennes and Chastain really have a knack for delivering such unnatural dialogue – The Forgiven is likely to be a more unexpected journey for those willing to take it. As emotional as it is wicked, McDonagh’s metaphorical drama delights in the space of regret.
The Forgiven is screening in Australian theatres from July 28th, 2022.