A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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 ...
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?
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