FILM REVIEW: The Forgiven — contrived and inauthentic
A new film based on the TRC does a disservice to SA history, writes Karyn Maughan
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) — and the way it attempted to uncover some of apartheid’s most horrific atrocities through the testimony of both perpetrators and witnesses — is a pivotal, albeit controversial, part of the SA story.
Anyone who reads the transcripts of the evidence led in those hearings, or any of the multiple excellent books written about the TRC, would know that the way it unfolded, the evidence it uncovered and the attempts to subvert its investigations make for compelling subject matter.
But clearly not for the makers of The Forgiven.
Instead of using the vast wealth of information available on the TRC to construct an informed and compelling story about a truly exceptional moment in SA history, they focus their truly terrible film on a fictional relationship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu (played by Forest Whitaker) and fictional "apartheid assassin" Piet Blomfield (played by Eric Bana).
At the end of this cringeworthy 110 minutes of my life — minutes that I will never get back — I had only one thought: please may Tutu never ever see this movie.
It is, much like the stories told by a pathological liar, interwoven with factually accurate elements, but they are so distorted by the often ludicrous plot that the story seems more like narrative vomit than the clean purging of this country’s disturbing history.
Blomfield’s back story, which attempts to explain why he ended up a psychotic and racist killer, is so weird and nonsensical that I’m still not entirely sure what it actually is.
He’s an AWB member who was apparently a member of a defence force "hit squad" based at Vlakplaas. And one of his fellow "hit squad" members is also a guard at Pollsmoor Prison — where, according to the film’s makers, the correctional services department authorities in democratic SA deny Tutu the right to see him.
All of which makes no sense. Whatsoever.
Tutu needs Blomfield to assist him in solving the disappearance of a young couple — who, like Blomfield, are a fictionalised mash-up of several different atrocity victims.
Watching the unfolding drama of this quest, which mostly involves Bana calling Whitaker the k-word and Whitaker adopting the expression of a confused walrus, is agonising.
Not because of the film’s multiple forays into gratuitous violence, but because the conflict created between these two central characters feels deeply contrived, and inauthentic.
This movie does a huge disservice to an aspect of SA history that, now more than ever, needs to be revisited and grasped. In all its complexity and messiness.
Again, I really do hope that none of the people involved in the momentous and almost impossible project of the TRC ever sees how badly it has been understood by this film. The thought of that is far more gut-wrenching to me than this terrible movie.