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The Forgiven (2021) – Review: A Worthwhile Journey From Director John Michael McDonagh

June 30, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B – Written, produced and directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary, War on Everyone), The Forgiven is an engrossing film that is aided greatly by the Moroccan locations. While the stacked cast is reliably solid, it’s Ralph Fiennes who steals the show.

After the dreary gray of Calvary and The Guard, the hot seediness of War on Everyone, the beginning of The Forgiven let’s viewers know that McDonagh is ready for wide open terrain and a whole lot of sunlight (and more morally gray characters who say and do some gnarly things). The movie begins with some beautiful cinematography by Larry Smith (Only God Forgives, The Guard, Calvary) that showcases the beauty of Morocco and highlights the distance between the film’s main characters. When we first meet married couple David (Ralph Fiennes – who also appearend in In Bruges, directed by Martin McDonagh – John’s brother) and Jo Henninger (Jessica Chastain), they are on a ferry to the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco where they will spend the weekend drinking and eating at a lavish villa owned by their friend Richard Galloway (Matt Smith). Smith’s camera captures them ignoring each other while other couples have spirited conversations in the background. They are then framed alone (with nice central framing) to further highlight their separation. Throw in shots of a gin/vodka and tonic, and a pained smile from Chastain, and you immediately recognize that these two good looking people are not doing so well (However, it’s nice seeing Chastain and Fiennes playing another married couple after Coriolanus). 

Once they arrive, David has a few more drinks and then the couple drive through the Moroccan desert to find Galloway’s wildly lavish villa that sticks out like a sore thumb in the vast openness. On the way, they get lost and while arguing about directions and their car strikes and kills a boy named Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) who is trying to sell them some artifacts. They put the child in their car, and drive to Galloway’s villa with the body in the backseat, and tell Joey and his partner Dally (Caleb Landry Jones – a McDonagh favorite) that Driss ran into the road which made the collision impossible to avoid. The local cops are called, and after a brief interrogation, the deadly incident is deemed an accident and it allows the privileged couple to escape any prosecution. After the police leave, Abdellah Taheri (Ismael Kanater) the boy’s father arrives and he requests that David join him on a road trip so they can bury the child together. In one of the most cringe-worthy scenes of the film, David arrives to meet Abdellah with a drink in hand, and a devil-may-care attitude that makes it seem like he could care less about the life of Driss. The moment showcases how numb David has become after years of drinking, money and privilege. In an interesting twist,  David, a seemingly unredeemable human decides to join Abdellah and his driver Anouar (Saïd Taghmaoui – very good) on the road trip, which means there has to be some honor mixed in with the bitterness and anger he exudes. 

When he leaves, Jo sparks up a flirtatious relationship with an investment banker named Tom (Chritopher Abbott) who helps her loosen up and find motivation to continue writing after a long bout of writer’s block (she wrote children’s novels before she met David). From there, the film bounces back and forth between the debauchery at the villa where the guests have largely negative things to say about the country they’re visiting, and the road trip which sees David becoming an actual human being who doesn’t always say terrible things.

Since it’s a film directed/produced/written by John Michael McDonagh you can expect characters to say horrible things and spout dialogue that is meant to push buttons. However, his goal with The Forgiven was to highlight things that are rarely seen. In an interview with Deadline, he said  “It’s about the blindness, and the privilege, and the things you’re not seeing,” and he also made sure to flesh out Chastain’s role because in the book the film is based on (which was released in 2012) her character’s journey doesn’t have the same weight. The two storylines don’t always gel, but they are great to look at and they build towards a bittersweet ending that feels somewhat earned. The movie never hits as hard as The Guard or Calvary, but it’s very watchable and entertaining. Also, the Moroccan locations are beautiful and they add a level of believability to the movie that would be lacking if they shot anywhere else.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2022 12:00 pm

    I’ve been torn on this one, and even after this I’m still torn. Maybe I can pick it up when there’s just nothing else that seems interesting.

    • July 5, 2022 9:43 am

      Smart. It’s a good movie, but it really hasn’t lingered in my memory. It’s worth a watch at home.

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