Forest Whitaker endows Desmond Tutu in ‘The Forgiven’

Part of the fun of watching movies based on actual historical figures is judging how close the resemblance is between the real person and the person portraying them.

Forest Whitaker endows Bishop Desmond Tutu in The ForgivenIf ever there was a film that lives and dies with its lead actor, it’s this one. In “The Forgiven,”  a post-apartheid story, written and directed by Roland Joffé, Forest Whitaker plays South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, who is known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist and he completely embodies Tutu in the role complete with his gestures and mannerisms.

Not to be confused as a biopic, Joffé’s fictional film merely follows the activist’s work as President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post apartheid South Africa as he visits a prisoner seeking redemption for his crimes.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play, The Archbishop and The Antichrist, the film opens with a series of flashbacks before introducing Tutu (Whitaker) who is summoned to a maximum-security prison, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, where Nelson Mandela also spent time, by a notorious murderer seeking clemency. The brutal murderer is a fictional character called Piet Blomfeld (played by Eric Bana) who is initially unrepentant, but after a series of subsequent conversations and a turn of events he eventually seeks redemption.Eric Bana (middle) plays a condemed prisoner in The Forgiven

Much like a stage play, the film is dialogue heavy and maintains a theatrical sense of scenes and acts; despite its realistic settings. It certainly confronts the atrocities of apartheid, but Tutu and Blomfeld’s melodramatic scenes and exchanges inside the high-security can be exhausting to listen to and with no detailed backstory to Blomfeld’s crimes or character, the film feels incomplete. Viewers are given several repeated flashbacks to his childhood and the same scene is replayed a few times and yet it still fails to fully flush out the backstory of the condemned despite the numerous flashbacks. Still, Whitaker’s electrifying performance certainly makes up for that. There are also scenes where Tutu is investigating a case of a missing girl making the film appear unfocused and disjointed at times and the best scenes are the ones filmed in the prison where corrupt white guards who played a part in apartheid and angry black prisoners collide.

Part of the fun of watching movies based on actual historical figures is judging how close the resemblance is between the real person and the person portraying them and Whitaker’s dedicated performance is excellent.

Lengthy and tedious to watch, the one thing worth seeing in this is Whitaker’s mesmerizing turn as Tutu.

(Photos courtesy of Saban Films)

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