Rated R. At Landmark Kendall Square.
A would-be scathing, Evelyn Waugh-ish look at a group of British and American elites using rural Morocco as their exotic setting for a licentious weekend, ”The Forgiven” is a foreigners-misbehaving mixed bag. Driving in the High Atlas Mountains, English doctor David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) and his American wife Jo Henninger (Academy Award-winner Jessica Chastain) strike and kill a Moroccan adolescent with their rental car. They take the body with them to the gated castle of their hosts Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) and Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones), an obnoxious gay couple with scant regard for the feelings or beliefs of their Muslim staff. In fact, Dally deliberately gives the head of the staff Hamid (Mourad Zaoui) a look at the bare bottom of a young man with whom he has slept.
Food and drink flow non-stop at the party. We are invited to compare the wanton, wasteful behavior of the invasive Westerners with ancient Rome and recall Rome’s eventual fall. The Muslim staff refer to their employees in Arabic using a gay slur and clearly hate them, but will take their money.
David is a “functioning alcoholic” with a practice in Chelsea and literal blood on his hands. The police are summoned. The body is stored in the garage. Jo is the author or children’s books, but has suffered from writer’s block. Someone whispers, “Infidels killed the boy.” One of the party goers, a young woman named Cody (Abbey Lee, “Mad Max: Fury Road”), wakes up the morning after the first day of festivities on top of a sand dune outside the castle grounds.
An angry Berber tribal leader (Ismael Kanater) appears and claims the dead boy is his only son Driss (Omar Ghazaoui). Hamid unleashes the first of what you know will be more Arabic proverbs. The tribal leader and his armed companions insist that David attend the funeral many miles away. For reasons I don’t understand, David agrees to go with the strange men in their vintage Defender on a journey into the moonscape-like mountains from which I do not expect him to return. Like much of “The Forgiven,” this plot twist did not add up.
Directed by London-born John Michael McDonagh (“Calvary”), the brother of playwright and director Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), and based on a book by Lawrence Osborne, “The Forgiven” is somewhat reminiscent of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1959 Southern Gothic hybrid “Suddenly, Last Summer,” based on the play by Tennessee Williams (If you haven’t seen this scandalous-for-its-time effort, check it out).
Hamid is clearly sympathetic to the tribesmen, and you wonder if he is going to lead an insurrection. Fiennes, whose most memorable line is a drunken, “Of course, I speak (expletive) French,” in reference to the colonial language still spoken in Morocco. Can someone explain to me the meaning of “Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous”?
In David’s absence, Jo ponders an affair with a handsome, young, jaded American named Tom (Christopher Abbott). In the mountains, workers mine slate-like pieces of stone embedded with fossils that will be used as a coffee table by some Norwegian billionaire. Someone observes that a single bathroom renovation in the West would feed an entire Moroccan village for a year. Meanwhile, fancy grub is being thrown out by the barrel-full back at the party. Cue the proverb, Hamid.
Chastain does not have much to do except act decadent. Fiennes is, as usual, terrific. But “The Forgiven,” which ends exactly as you expected, is nothing if not obvious.
(“The Forgiven” contains sexually suggestive scenes, profanity, drug use and brief violence.)
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