When you have money, life is much easier than when you have to scrape to get by. Ask the A-list stars in your favourite movie or all those rich people driving fancy cars and living in enormous mansions. You would think that they have it all. Wealth, luxury and a devoted rich husband/wife. But more often than you think, the posh lifestyle is just a façade. While money can buy splendid cars, houses, etc., it can’t buy love, passion, compassion and affection.
That’s again being proven in “The Forgiven”, the latest movie from writer/director John Michael McDonagh (“Calvary”, “The Guard”). While the storyline is buried under the desert sand, stunning performances and great cinematography keep this movie going.
David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain) are typical Hollywood couple. Lavishly dressed, drinking the most expensive champagne and being invited to glamourous parties. While driving to a stunning party in the desert, their dream life becomes a nightmare.
David hits and kills a local Moroccan boy with his car. While the boy stepped out of nowhere into the road, David had too much to drink and was speeding. If this comes out, his grand life will become life in jail. The couple decides to put the body in the car and continue their drive to the party. Their host, Richard (Matt Smith), helps them figure out what to do. They decide that boy’s death will be declared an accident, but that’s until the boy’s father comes to claim the body. He also insists David comes with him.
David ultimately agrees to take the trip, but he’s not 100% sure who he can trust and what will happen to him. While his journey is filled with doubt, fear, anger and resentment, Jo’s life is jammed with drinking, partying and even flirting. The longer their journeys go on, the more it becomes clear that the couple has much more to deal with than what it looks like. Will they be able to fight off their demons, or will their conflicted souls be lost forever?
“The Forgiven” is based on the novel by Lawrence Osborne, so while the perfect idea was there, it feels like we’re missing something. The book is highly detailed and expansive; for some unknown reason, McDonagh decided to leave out almost all the details. He swiftly takes us through all the events without giving the movie any depth. He wants to tell the whole storyline and focus on important topics such as cultural tourism, social inequity and racism.
Still, with a runtime of only 1h 57min, you can’t go into much detail whatsoever. We wanted more instead of less this time, and maybe another format (think of a limited series) would have worked much better. That being said, it’s great to see that McDonagh was able to add his typical characteristics to this movie: The focus is on two people having razor-sharp conversations.
It goes in an instant from a lovely chat to a significant reproach and from an honest talk between the couple to the rudest compliment you can think of. While it’s a shame that we don’t have a lot of those conversations during the second part of the movie (due to Jo and David’s separate storylines), the actors keep the characters alive wonderfully.
Chastain’s (“IT: Chapter Two”, “Molly’s Game”) performance as Jo having to deal with the unaffecting, judgemental and extremely egocentric husband is emotional, on-point and extremely witty. When her character lives the life she wants when snorting coke, flirting, drinking her sorrows away and finally having fun for once, Chastain’s performance becomes more uplifting, vibrant and fun. Still, she ensures you can feel her character’s sorrow, doubt and anxiety. Her chemistry with Fiennes feels extremely real, honest and impactful.
The realness is also because of Fiennes’ (“No Time To Die”, “Spectre”) very effective acting. His humour is as dry as his dirty martini, and the timing is entertaining and highly comedic. While David is an extremely unlikeable character due to his outright impoliteness, you still want to know what happens to him. Will David be killed when attending the burial, or will the father keep his word? That’s what keeps this movie going.
Apart from the astonishing acting performances and the fast-paced conversations, it’s also the breathtaking cinematography that keeps this movie alive, from the festive parties to the beautiful Moroccan landscapes and from the more close-up and intimate scenes to the stunning overview shots. Cinematographer Larry Smith (“Only God Forgives, “Trafficker”) shines in bringing the differences between the poor and rich stunningly to life, with the fireworks display at the most impactful and meaningful scene of them all.
While there’s room for improvement, especially regarding the script, “The Forgiven” is a highly psychological crime thriller with some dark comedy, magnificent cinematography, bags of charisma and, of course, two on-point performances by Chastain and Fiennes.
2nd September 2022
John Michael McDonagh
THE QUICK SELL
Explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party at a grand villa in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco over a single weekend.