In The Forgiven, Eric Bana plays Piet Blomfield, a foul-mouthed racist looking to antagonize a humble, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, played by Forest Whitaker. The two share some very intense scenes that kind of reminded gave me a Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling vibe where the two wax philosophical over political turmoil, religion, war, violence, and race but when you really boil it down it’s a battle of wills. These scenes are enjoyable and show two great actors playing off of each other, and while the subject matter and setting are just as fascinating as it is culturally and morally important, the film falls flat in a few key ways.
“Bana’s work in this film is absolutely incredible and intense.”
Based on the play The Archbishop and The Antichrist by Michael Ashton, which is very loosely based on true-life events, the story takes place in post-apartheid South Africa. After South Africa’s first fully democratic election, President Mandela has given Truth and Reconciliation Commission the task of finding war criminals and allowing them amnesty upon confession of their crimes. Bana’s Blomfield summons Tutu to his prison under the false pretenses that he is ready to confess his sins and atrocities, but instead taunts Tutu, defiantly stating that he is beyond redemption. If you can get past that tragically hilarious prosthetic nose Forest Whitaker has pasted on him for the duration of the movie, and roll with his failing accent, Whitaker delivers a compelling performance that can be brilliantly captivating one minute, and fairly flimsy the next. Again, the core of the movie involves these two battling each other verbally with their contrasting viewpoints and philosophies. These scenes feel very much like a play, and that makes sense given the source material.
“Just alone, the scenes between Whitaker and Bana earn the film a recommendation…”
What doesn’t work for me, however, is Tutu’s moments of weakness. They come off as forced and whiny. I understand why it’s imperative to show that Tutu has moments of doubt, but one scene, in particular, featured on a beach and the dialogue does an awful disservice to the actors. Whitaker does what he can, but even that is not nearly enough for this scene to acquire its desired effect. Bana’s work in this film is absolutely incredible and intense. He steals the show in this every time he pops up. As the story progresses we find that Archbishop Tutu is relying on Blomfield to help him solve a mystery involving two children. The two crack each other’s resolves, making for the most compelling of scenes where they come to a mutual understanding. There’s a subplot involving a gang of prison thugs called the 28, and Benjamin (played by Nandiphile Mbeshu), a new recruit that forms a bond with Blomfield, but this feels rushed and comes out of nowhere.
The Forgiven is hard to place tonally. It’s very dark and brutal with some horrific depictions and even worse descriptions of violence, but it’s meant to instill you with the hope that anyone can find redemption, even racist murderers who waged a violent war in the name of segregation. Just alone, the scenes between Bana and Whitaker earn the film a recommendation, but other than that there’s just not much else worthy of note.
The Forgiven (2018) Directed by Roland Joffé. Written by Roland Joffé and Michael Ashton. Starring Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana, Nandiphile Mbeshu, Morné Visser, Jeff Gum, Thandi Makhubele, Terry Norton
7 out of 10