The Forgiven challenges the old saying ‘What happens on vacation stays on vacation’

Synopsis: The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and explores the repercussions of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Mourad Zaoui

Last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jessica Chastain was a busy woman. Not only was she one of the recipients of the TIFF Tribute Award, but she also had two movies premiering at the festival. Her portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) was so impressive she won multiple awards, including her first Academy Award, but she was also in another film that is now getting its theatrical release, The Forgiven. Don’t think that because The Forgiven is only coming out now, it isn’t a good movie, far from it.

In this film, Chastain and Fiennes play Jo and David Henninger, an unhappily married couple. Jo seems to spend most of her time with David biting her tongue and looking for patience, while David appears to be offended by anything or offensive himself. They are in Morocco for a getaway and can’t seem to agree on anything.

There are several guests invited to stay at a resort, which involves driving there. There aren’t exactly street signs, and I’m not sure how well Google Maps works in the desert but while Jo and David are en route, they get into an accident and kill a local boy.

This event has a domino effect, and the Henningers are left to deal with the repercussions of this tragedy. The boy’s father arrives and insists that David accompany him to bring the boy’s body back home.

Over the last few years, there have been multiple projects that cleverly focus on the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ Parasite, which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Squid Game, which is also award-winning and the best show I’ve watched during the pandemic. Well, add The Forgiven to the list that is taking this subject. We have the guests, who are all affluent and brag about their wealth, and the people who live there, who are scraping by. During their stay, when Jo refers to the staff looking after them, David feels the need to correct her, saying they are ‘servants.’ One would be hard-pressed to find something likeable about David, and this is a credit to Fiennes acting, who plays this role to perfection.

This is a strong collective film. Matt Smith plays Richard Galloway, the organizer of the getaway. Caleb Landry Jones is fantastic as Galloway’s partner. I truly appreciate how Landry Jones buries himself into every role he plays. Mourad Zaoui, who plays Hamid, has a very subtle yet powerful role in the film.

We live in a world with a ‘What happens on vacation, stays on vacation’ mentality, and The Forgiven challenges that. It explores several themes, some more effectively than others.

Overall, I enjoyed this film. Usually, when I see a Jessica Chastain starred film, I leave it remarking over her performance, but not this time. This is a true ensemble effort. Every cast member elevates this film.

Grade: B

Watch Keith’s interview with Mourad Zaoui

Watch the movie trailer: