[SPOILER ALERT: This review includes a look at major plot points and the film’s ending.]
This was an interesting film in that it poses more questions than it answers, and at the same time makes you wonder what the point of the movie actually was. From the outset, Forgiven appears to be a standard crime-drama about a man (Russell Hornsby as Ronald) condemned to die by lethal injection getting a pardon at the last minute while an aspiring senator (Paul Fitzgerald as Peter) bloviates against the man’s release.
Now we have a movie that is for and against the death penalty taking on the argument from both sides. Themes of race, justice, wrongful incarceration, and others flow throughout the film. But just when you think the film is making a positive statement about why the death penalty is bad, the movie takes a dark and cruel turn.
Ronald, the former death row inmate, now released, kidnaps the Peter and delivers his own brand of justice to him. Fair enough. Both have been on opposite sides of the death penalty debate, and the former convict wants his voice heard. To change the senatorial candidates mind about things? Perhaps.
And then things take an ugly turn.
Ronald, moments away from lethal injection, a man who supposedly was innocent of killing a cop, kidnaps and kills Peter’s young son. At this point, I lost all interest in the film. It became a clichéd piece where the black man really is bad and goes on to kill a kid to prove how evil he actually is.
There’s a rule I once learned in a screenwriting class: you don’t kill kids and you don’t kill animals in a film unless you want to lose your audience. I agree with this statement for the most part, and it definitely applies here. What seemed to be the premise of the film at the beginning about why the death penalty is a bad idea is turned on its head by the end.
Ronald was innocent, charges were dropped, and he was released. So why kill an innocent kid? If he had killed Peter I would have been more inclined to understand his position. What actually occurs is sickening.
The film has no real climax and appears to be missing a third act or any sense of closure. The filmmaker (also Paul Fitzgerald who wrote and directed the film) may have intended the end to start discussion and debate on the topic of the death penalty. I just kept wondering: why kill the kid? Why make the supposed innocent black man a killer? What message is the film trying to present?
I can possibly recommend Forgiven to people interested in the legal system, or those who want to see how alternative screenwriting structures don’t always work. This is definitely not a film for mainstream audiences, and it certainly isn’t for people who would be bothered by an innocent kid getting killed.