Arrogance, entitlement and indulgence meet desert justice in The Forgiven. This rich and textured movie by John Michael McDonagh (Calvary) is based on Lawrence Osborne’s eponymous 2012 novel.
Medical specialist David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain) spend a lavish weekend with old friend Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) in Morocco. The location is hundreds of kilometres from the capital, requiring them to drive through the Sahara Desert. David frequently drinks to excess and his pomposity shows. The openly gay Galloway has a castle, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and a lover, Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones), who – too – is fond of the bottle. Galloway has invited a group of friends to the lavish party. No expense has been spared.
When David and Jo fail to turn up, Galloway becomes concerned. It turns out David hit and killed a Moroccan teenager, Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), the consequences of which play out for the rest of the film. Police are ready to dismiss the incident as an accident. Then Driss’ father Abdellah Taheri (Ismael Kanater) turns up. He insists David accompany him to his far off village where he intends to bury his son. Populated by bandits and, in places, controlled by ISIS, the Sahara is a dangerous place, but David is left with little choice. The experience is a chastening one. Meanwhile, Jo lets her hair down with a hedonistic financial analyst, Tom Day (Christopher Abbott).
The Forgiven has morality at its core, and considerable merit. The attention to detail is admirable. The location and cinematography by Larry Smith are noteworthy. The juxtaposition between the haves and have-nots couldn’t be starker and the picture painted is particularly ugly. Galloway’s friends are largely self-indulgent narcissists, with a holier-than-thou attitude. The way John Michael McDonagh has painted it is quite sickening.
The performances are particularly strong. Fiennes appears to revel in his dastardly characterisation of the intelligent, opinionated anti-hero. Chastain shines as his long-suffering wife. Smith impresses as a man of even temperament who caters to other’s vices, while respecting the locals. I also gleaned much from Kanater’s role as the wronged father.
McDonagh’s unhurried style of filmmaking allows audiences to appreciate the gravity of what has occurred.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – movie review
- The White Crow – movie review
- Molly’s Game – movie review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.