There’s a lot to like about Roland Joffé’s The Forgiven. The film features formidable performances from Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a fearsome former hitman, respectively. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the film examines profound questions of guilt and forgiveness as the nation navigates away from its racist past. It’s an empathetic movie, arguing that “no-one is beyond redemption” – even Bana’s unsympathetic monster of a man.
And yet I found myself underwhelmed by the film, increasingly disengaged and bored as it progressed. Perhaps I could credit that to the way Joffé and Michael Ashton’s screenplay over-emphasises its theme of forgiveness, the way its insights into race remain relegated to surface-level platitudes.
The Forgiven’s thematic simplicity – its steadfast refusal to challenge its audience beyond a climactic courtroom scene – is a strike against it. My primary complaint is a narrative one: the film simply fails to hold your attention. The film teases its true subject with its prologue, but rather than focus on a quest for and questions about justice, it sidles along meandering subplots including an overlong, clichéd prison melodrama. Regardless of such faults, Bana and Whitaker are impressive throughout; they just needed a stronger story.