Rated R. At Landmark Kendall Square.
A supposedly scathing, Evelyn Waugh-ish look at a group of British and American elites using rural Morocco as an exotic setting for a licentious weekend, “The Forgiven” is a mix of strangers and bad behavior. Driving through the High Atlas Mountains, English doctor David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes) and his American wife Jo Henninger (Oscar winner Jessica Chastain) hit and kill a Moroccan teenager with their rental car. They take the body with them to the locked castle of their hosts Richard Galloway (Matt Smith) and Dally Margolis (Caleb Landry Jones), an obnoxious gay couple who pay little heed to the feelings or beliefs of their Muslim staff. In fact, Dally deliberately gives Chief of Staff Hamid (Mourad Zaoui) a look at the bare buttocks of a young man he slept with.
Food and drink flow non-stop at the party. We are invited to compare the wanton and wasteful behavior of the encroaching Westerners with ancient Rome and recall Rome’s eventual downfall. Muslim staff refer to their employees in Arabic using a gay slur and clearly hate them but will take their money.
David is a “functional alcoholic” with a practice at Chelsea and literal blood on his hands. The police are summoned. The body is stored in the garage. Jo is the author of children’s books, but suffered from writer’s block. Someone whispers: “Infidels killed the boy. One of the revelers, a young woman named Cody (Abbey Lee, “Mad Max: Fury Road”), wakes up the morning after the first day of festivities atop a sand dune outside the castle grounds .
An angry Berber tribal chief (Ismael Kanater) appears and claims the dead boy is his only son Driss (Omar Ghazaoui). Hamid unleashes the first of what you know to be more Arabic proverbs. The tribal chief and his armed companions insist that David attend the funeral several miles away. For reasons I don’t understand, David agrees to accompany the Strange Men in their vintage Defender for a trip into the moonscape-like mountains from which I don’t expect him to return. Like a lot of “The Forgiven,” this plot twist didn’t work out.
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 Tennessee Williams play (if you haven’t seen this outrageous effort for the time, check it out eye).
Hamid is clearly sympathetic to the tribesmen, and you wonder if he’s going to lead an uprising. Fiennes, whose most memorable phrase is a drunkard, “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, jaded American boy named Tom (Christopher Abbott). In the mountains, workers are quarrying slate-like pieces of stone encrusted with fossils that will serve as a coffee table for a Norwegian billionaire. Someone observes that a single bathroom renovation in the West would feed an entire Moroccan village for a year. Meanwhile, fancy food is thrown from the full barrel at the party. Cue the proverb, Hamid.
Chastain doesn’t 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.)