September 20, 2009

REVIEW: Forgiven (B)

Paul Fitzgerald's Forgiven explores a familiar story with a familiar lesson, but it stands apart from most character dramas because of the boldness with which it approaches some pretty thorny subjects: racism, American politics, murder, capital punishment, corruption, betrayal, redemption and, of course, forgiveness. In fact one of the film's weaknesses is a sense that perhaps it bit off more than it could chew, resulting in a narrative that plays like a television series condensed into 81 minutes. At the same time, however, this breadth of focus is also one of Forgiven's strengths because it illustrates how interconnected many of this social issues are.

After receiving a pardon from the Governor of North Carolina mere moments before his execution for a murder conviction, Ronald Bradler (Russell Hornsby) finds himself suddenly back in society, aimless, jobless, and very near to hopeless. He had maintained his innocence of the crime to the execution gurney, and now, angry about the years he lost on death row and the social stigma attached to his identity as a convicted felon, he's seeking retribution. His primary target is the former D.A. who prosecuted the case against him, Peter Miles (Paul Fitzgerald, who also wrote and directed the film). The timing couldn't be worse for Miles; he is in the home stretch of a U.S. Senate campaign and can't afford any skeletons in his closet aside from the drug and alcohol abuse he's already admitted.

The real seed of Bradler's frustration is the implicit role he felt his race played in the case - until he learns of known evidence that could have cleared him just weeks after the trial. When Miles denies any wrongdoing and brushes off Bradler's meeting requests by telling him to "move on" and "get on with your life", well let's just say things get out of hand quickly.

Forgiven arrives at a time in this country when accusations of racism and power are beginning to enter almost every national conversation. About education, about health care, about taxes, about unemployment and, most recently, about civility. I'm a little surprised prison populations and the justice system haven't received any attention in 2009, but if Forgiven hits the right chord it has the potential to be a catalyst. I don't think that's Fitzgerald's motive, however, so it's unfair to peg Forgiven as an "issue" movie, but rather one that attempts to test a viewer's sympathy for its characters as they stumble through a difficult situation - a situation that requires conditional forgiveness for unconditionally terrible crimes. Fitzgerald and Hornsby offer strong performances, but the acting in general is a bit uneven, with a few strained, emotional outbursts that unfortunately reminded me of the overacting in 21 Grams.

And while I ultimately found the ending to be a little more disturbing than it may have been designed to be, I think that caused Forgiven to linger for a few days, challenging me to consider the motives and justifications of its character's actions. I'm blessed not to have yet experienced a "wrong" in my life that would beg the question of forgiveness at this level
(i.e., rape, murder, war crimes, imprisonment, etc.), but this movie in some way makes me consider how I would act under such circumstances. And in doing that - in asking challenging questions and not necessarily offering easy answers, Forgiven achieves its goal.

Writing - 8
Acting - 7
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 42/50= 84% = B

Forgiven is currently available on Amazon's Video On Demand, and can also be added to your Netflix queue in advance of its DVD release.

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