The Forgiven

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
The Forgiven Movie Poster Image
Brutal violence, adult themes in post-apartheid story.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 115 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film is all about forgiveness and redemption. The story's main tension is between Tutu's potential to fall victim to a terrible person and his own ability to sway a vicious, racist, clever killer toward a new understanding. The post-apartheid cooperation between blacks and whites is significant.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some characters prove irredeemable; some come to understand the depth of suffering caused by their actions and sincerely regret them. Hard to think of a better role model than Desmond Tutu, who followed a belief in nonviolent unification even in the face of apartheid brutality. He's presented here as untiring and deeply dedicated to peace and justice, even while facing the realities of human rights abuses. There are negative figures -- e.g., those who committed terrible hate crimes, including some who don't regret it. But there's also the mother of a victim who must find it within herself to forgive. Main villain/bad guy serves as a cautionary tale: a highly intelligent person who was warped by inhuman acts experienced as a youth.


Plenty of violent, disturbing scenes, including multiple brutal gang beatings and bloody one-on-one fights. Lots of kicking and stomping on helpless victims, slashing with knives, and a particularly painful-looking ear grab that draws blood. Prison rape is a plot element, though it isn't shown on-screen beyond the beginning of one instance. Graphic description of murderous acts, including killers burning corpses during a barbeque.


Rear male nudity in a shower scene. The scene depicting the start of a prison rape (see "Violence") shows male nudity from the side (no genitals seen).


Frequent use of words including "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," and "bastard," plus lots of South African racial slurs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A crooked guard deals drugs to prisoners.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, although a story centering on Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Forest Whitaker) might seem like an inspiring pick for viewers of all ages, The Forgiven definitely isn't intended for kids or young teens. In addition to its rough adult language -- including variants of "f--k," "s--t," and South African racial slurs -- it has brutal, bloody violence (gang beatings, rape, corpses being burned at a barbecue, and more), and it often discusses the horrific hate crimes of South Africa's apartheid era. Expect graphic descriptions of torture and inhuman behavior, including the murder of innocent teens. While the movie's central questions about forgiveness and redemption are worth pondering, it's not age-appropriate for any but the most mature of teens.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTeri-Lin R. March 14, 2018

The Forgiven

I am sure this is a great movie and kudos to Roland for pulling it off, but must mention that there are many crew members/suppliers that were not paid for their... Continue reading

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What's the story?

THE FORGIVEN looks at recent South African history, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Forest Whitaker) leads the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in an effort to help heal his nation. During one of his investigations into past human rights abuses, he crosses paths with a notorious (though invented for the movie) convicted killer, Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana). Blomfeld asks to speak with Tutu but doesn't seem interested in the amnesty the TRC can offer. So what is he after? Will Tutu succeed in coaxing information from Blomfeld, earning the killer a measure of redemption, or will Blomfeld succeed in tarnishing this good man's soul with his own toxic nihilism?

Is it any good?

What turns out to be a kind of parable dotted with real-life people and events is elevated by Bana's terrific performance. The Forgiven is framed as a kind of courtroom drama/murder mystery, with Tutu as the unlikely detective. That narrative device is a bit thin; we're not exactly following clues. And an extensive disclaimer admits that many facts and characters have been altered for dramatic purposes, so the film can't be taken as a reliable historical record. So it's best to think of it as a big-question drama: What is forgiveness, really? Is it healthy? Is it even possible? Can people really find it in themselves to forgive someone who brutally murdered their loved one? Can the murderer ever gain some semblance of redemption?

Whitaker had been attached to the film adaptation of Michael Ashton's play The Archbishop and the Antichrist, for years, and you can see why he'd want the part. Nobel laureate Tutu is a fascinating figure, a man of radiant humanity sifting through the wreckage of inhuman behavior. Whitaker achieves a fair approximation of Tutu's look and mannerisms, but, like the rest of the film, is at his best when Bana's Blomfeld is on screen with him. Bana is electrifying as the unrepentant, racist murderer, who quotes Milton's Paradise Lost and Plato one moment and then advocates for a full-on race war the next. Bana has a mighty task before him: to make us think his hate alone could sway Tutu. The actor just about pulls it off, especially as the effect of his powerful scenes adds up. Bana is best known as a root-for-him good guy (Troy, Black Hawk Down), but he's played intimidating thugs before, quite impressively (Chopper). Here, he pairs an imposing physical presence with a complex snake pit of a mind. Director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission) is a veteran of tales examining oppressive regimes, and apart from a few missteps in the film's first minutes, he generally succeeds in making the horrors of apartheid land. The takeaways from The Forgiven will surely be its big questions -- and Bana's performance. When one of the guards doesn't know Paradise Lost, Blomfeld barks, "It's a poem -- about me!" For those who may not recall, the most memorable character in Milton's classic is Satan.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Forgiven. How does it compare to what you might see in a blockbuster action/superhero movie? Which has more of an impact? Why?

  • The story of The Forgiven is based loosely on real events, but several of the key characters are fictional. How does that make you feel? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in movies based on real life? How could you learn more?

  • What does "forgiveness" actually mean? Do you think you could forgive someone who killed someone you love -- someone in your family? 

  • Do you think either the confessing policeman or the imprisoned murderer earned any sort of redemption? Why? 

Movie details

  • In theaters: March 9, 2018
  • On DVD or streaming: May 15, 2018
  • Cast: Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana
  • Director: Roland Joffe
  • Studio: Saban Films
  • Genre: Drama
  • Topics: History
  • Run time: 115 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: disturbing/violent content, and language throughout including some sexual references
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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