Review: 'The Forgiven', Forest Whitaker & Eric Bana Go Toe To Toe In This Historical Drama

The Forgiven takes place in the mid-90s in Cape Town, South Africa. This was a turbulent time for South Africa with apartheid just ending and democracy being newly instilled in the country. Nelson Mandela was elected president and appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Forest Whitaker) as the Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was unique in the sense that it allowed people who had committed human rights violations during apartheid to request amnesty from being persecuted for those crimes if they admitted their deeds. Tutu and Mandela truly believed in forgiveness and this belief was present in the values of the TRC. Tutu had even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent leadership opposing apartheid. Before Mandela and Tutu’s work in Africa there was widespread turmoil across South Africa. The military and police forces seemed to have free reign, people could disappear at any moment – never to be heard from again. Families were left with a small sliver of hope that they would return, or the unease of never knowing what truly happened to their loved ones.

This situation is the exact one that is at the crux of The Forgiven. The Morobe family has had a loved one disappear and Mrs. Morobe (Thandi Makhubele) cannot bear the unknown of what happened to her daughter. Tutu feels their pain and promises to solve the mystery so the family can be at peace and give the girl a proper burial. While dealing with trying to bring this family closure, Tutu receives prison letters from Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana) asking for a meeting. The Forgiven takes us into the world of South African prisons, and the deplorable conditions and power struggles that exist there. Tutu would grant Blomfeld’s wish and these scenes lead to the two men engaging in a chess match of wits, both trying to get the upper hand on the other. Watching these two fantastic actors sparring back and forth is where the film really shines. Blomfeld wants amnesty for his crimes, but he is a repeat murder, whose crimes seemed to have no political motive, only anger and rage. Yet there is something about Blomfeld that Tutu can’t shake – something that causes him to keep playing the murderer’s games.

Movies based on true events, whether loosely or not, hold a different weight to me. Especially ones that are based on significant historical events – events that affected people and entire countries, showing the struggles that they had to endure. This kind of inspiration increases a film’s significance and at times leaves me in awe. The Forgiven is based on the play “The Archbishop and The Antichrist” which was written by Michael Ashton. Ashton and director Roland JoffĂ© collaborated on the script for the film. The Forgiven provides a glimpse into what the people of South Africa were going through and it is a powerful glimpse. Simply watching Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Desmond Tutu is a sight to behold. He is clearly one of the best actors of his generation and his performance in The Forgiven is what we’ve all come to expect every time we see him. During the film we see Tutu being pulled in multiple directions, all while dealing with health issues. He always has wise words of comfort and usually a smile of his face. The Forgiven does a great job in depicting the incredible and inspirational person he was. From trying to ease the pain of families, to visits to prison, to holding special hearings trying to get to the bottom of the corruption in South Africa – Desmond Tutu took on this immense responsibility and put others, and his country, before himself. Eric Bana’s performance as the ruthless Piet Blomfeld is also stellar. While the film does have its moments and some great dialogue, it can get sluggish at times. The good certainly outweighs the bad and I believe that Ashton and JoffĂ© did the play and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s story justice.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5