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"The Forgiven" (2022) Review: A Desert Drama Where the Mouth is Faster Than the Gun

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

The official theatrical poster for, "The Forgiven."

The official theatrical poster for, "The Forgiven."

Money Doesn't Buy Intelligence

A house party in the labyrinth of dry desert in the High Atlas Mountains located in Morocco is the focal point of John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven. Married couple David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo Henninger (Jessica Chastain) get lost on the way to the party and kill a local Muslim named Driss when they accidentally run him over with their vehicle. Reluctant at first, the couple cooperates with local police and is mostly candid about the incident. However, the boy’s father, Abdellah Taheri (Ismael Kanater) arrives and wants David to travel back with him to his village in order to bury Driss. As David’s fate is left up in the air, the guests continue to party as if David’s life isn’t at stake.

The drama film is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by author Lawrence Osborne. There’s this glaring and divisive contrast between the westerners with money who do nothing but party and the local Muslims who have learned to live with less. You could say it’s a rich versus poor mentality, but the Muslims in The Forgiven aren’t hurting for money. They may not like the heat, but they’ve learned to adapt to it. The westerners turn a blind eye to David’s essential march to his own death. He is essentially kidnapped with permission. While he is going through hell, his so called friends are back at the house doing drugs, sleeping with each other, and gossiping about everything they can wrap their lips around.

David and Jo Henninger are basically the stereotypical rich, white couple with first world problems. They, along with all of their friends at the party, look down on individuals who they believe to be beneath them. They’re not uneducated as they all tend to have some knowledge about the things they ramble on and on about, but everything is so spiteful and venomous like purposely throwing gasoline onto an already roaring fire. Over the course of the film, it seems as though David and Jo switch places than when they begin in the film. David learns a bit about compassion and humility whereas Jo succumbs to her selfishness after seemingly being trapped in a miserable state for so very long.

Overall, The Forgiven has an enormously talented cast. Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) and Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones) are a gay couple that host the house party. The two have questionable motives, but seem to be the main ones fanning the flames in order to have a party that everyone is sure to remember. Tom Day (Christopher Abbott) is a financial analyst that seems to be traveling the world solely to sleep with every woman he comes across.

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Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain as David and Jo Henninger in, "The Forgiven."

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain as David and Jo Henninger in, "The Forgiven."

Gossip and Sh*t Talking; A Fate Worse Than Death

Ismael Kanater has a commanding presence whenever he’s on screen as Abdellah Taheri. He has this passion, overwhelming anger, and unbelievable sadness in his actions as a father grieving the loss of his only son. He’s desperate and vengeful and he has a death stare that stabs directly at your soul. Anouar (Said Taghmaoul) travels with Ismael and is his English translator. Anouar’s interactions with David don’t exactly come off as friendly, but it seems as though he’s attempting to understand why David did what he did. Hamid (Mourad Zaoui) is part of the staff that tends to and waits on the guests at Richard and Dally’s grand villa. His one-liners are fantastically meaningful, but almost always go unappreciated.

It feels like the film is attempting to build tension or lead the viewer in misleading directions, but you never really feel all that invested. The film has maybe three acts of violence (a rock throwing and two separate deaths) over the course of nearly two hours. The rest of the film is watching people sit around and talk or party while the world metaphorically crumbles around them.

Matt Smith (left) and Caleb Landry Jones (right) as Richard Galloway and Dally Margolis in, "The Forgiven."

Matt Smith (left) and Caleb Landry Jones (right) as Richard Galloway and Dally Margolis in, "The Forgiven."

The ensemble cast is what may draw you to the film, but while the cast has a palpable amount of chemistry The Forgiven literally has nothing else going for it. Christopher Abbott and Jessica Chastain have some of the best conversations in the film with such gems as making Johnny Depp jokes, a several minute conversation about the proper amount of sluttiness a woman should adhere to, and an anal sex conversation that may or may not revolve around playing ping pong with a hooker. Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones are also deliciously catty together, but The Forgiven is fairly boring in retrospect. The film teases and teases to the point that the limp climax is anything but satisfying.

The Forgiven is a peculiar film that seems to be trying to say something about poverty or the wealthy being blind to anything that isn’t directly under their noses, but it also squeezes in a few jabs at racism. The whole thing about throwing mice off of rooftops while wearing parachutes with swastikas on them is really bizarre. The film alludes to death and uncertainty at every turn with verbal descriptions of torture and a brief clip of Hershel’s beheading on The Walking Dead. Despite the best efforts of a massively talented cast, The Forgiven trudges around in circles to the point where you don’t care what its destination is as long as it finally and truly ends.

From left to right; Ismael Kanater, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, and Mourad Zaoui as Abdellah Taheri, David Henninger, Richard Galloway, and Hamid in, "The Forgiven."

From left to right; Ismael Kanater, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, and Mourad Zaoui as Abdellah Taheri, David Henninger, Richard Galloway, and Hamid in, "The Forgiven."

© 2022 Chris Sawin

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