CAPSULE: This film has two plotlines involving Archbishop Desmond Tutu (played by Forest Whitaker). One has him chairing the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the dismantling of the apartheid state. At the same time he counsels a rabid and unrepentant racist, Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana) in an attempt to understand Blomfeld's point of view. The film is based on a play as is rather obvious from the long conversations between them that are more dramatic than believable. This confrontation is really the core of the film, but leads to a conclusion this is a little pat. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Roland Joffe made the very powerful and moving THE KILLING FIELDS back in 1985. More currently he has co-authored and directed THE FORGIVEN. The topic is an emotional one and his film should have been, but what is missing is the emotional punch and epic feel of the earlier film. Joffe has intertwined two stories involving Archbishop Desmond Tutu, here played by Forest Whitaker. One story is about Tutu chairing the Commission on truth and reconciliation. The other is about his relationship with a virulent racist bigot interned at Pollsmmore Prison, Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), whose world fell apart at the same time that apartheid fell apart.
Whitaker, whose story should be the emotional center of the film, usually just looks mild and walks around in Archbishop clothes and smiles. When confronted with an account of a horrendous incident his part really needs an indignant response. It needs some fury. The film gives the viewer ample reason to make Tutu a saint, but little reason to make him a dramatic screen hero. It leaves the viewer dramatically unfulfilled. But there is little clout to Whitaker's performance. Most of the force is reserved for Bana and his performance is the one that will be remembered.
Some of the dialog is in local languages with subtitles, and some of the dialog is spoken in English with a thick South African accent which could well use subtitling. The accent perhaps is too accurate. It sounds about right but is close to impenetrable to decipher. Whitaker does not really resemble Tutu much at all, but it is enough not to be a big distraction for the viewer. He looks more a caricature of Tutu, but we never feel we are inside the man and understanding him. The discussions perhaps slow the pacing of the film. Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana) has an unusual character. He is a rabid hater of blacks but seems to have educated himself in the classics, an unusual combination. Thandi Makhubele gives a short but very strong performance as a mother looking for a daughter who disappeared.
Joffe's THE FORGIVEN has moments of great tragedy, but they lead just to shock rather than a sustained anger. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2249081/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_forgiven_2018
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper