Saturday 9 December 2023

Movie Review: The Forgiven (2021)

Genre: Drama
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith
Running Time: 117 minutes

Synopsis: Married British couple David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) are enroute to a Morocco destination party hosted by the wealthy Richard Galloway (Matt Smith), whose mansion is in the middle of the desert. David is a heavy drinker, and while driving across the desert at night he accidentally hits and kills a local boy. After a cursory police investigation, the dead boy's father arrives and demands that David attend the funeral, leaving Jo behind with the other party guests. The subsequent ordeal further tests the already fraught Henninger marriage.

What Works Well: Writer and director John Michael McDonagh adapts Lawrence Osborne's book as a slow-burning drama most interested in exploring a clash of cultures. A decadent party drenched in alcohol, drugs, and sex is juxtaposed with conservative tribal customs, the locals now surviving by serving foreigners and peddling culture and history. David's dismissive arrogance embodies all that is wrong with misplaced superiority, and his emotional awakening anchors the narrative. The intriguing locations and expansive cinematography add spice.

What Does Not Work As Well: Momentum sags once the premise is set, and David's ominous journey idles in the same emotional space for a long time. The superficiality of the party guests and their behaviour represents cinematically wasteful condemnation, with Jessica Chastain struggling to elevate her role into relevance.

Conclusion: Shimmers in the desert, but beware the mirage.

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