Struck by tragedy, a despondent writer finds his salvation through the ghosts of his past. This is our review of writer/director David J Stern’s family drama The Forgiving.
One of the very first rules you are taught when learning about writing in all its forms is to write about what you know. Films about writers are everywhere – writers with drink problems, writers suffering writer’s block, writers facing a mid-life crisis, and many other problems. In film, using an author as your main character is a useful tool that allows them to own a nice house, a good car, and seemingly have unlimited time to be out and about at any time of day in any part of the country.
David Stern’s The Forgiving gives us another movie writer in Avi Brickman, and opens on a short uplifting note with some beautiful vibrant colours of the trees and the home life of Avi (played by actor Jon Gerard Healy). We meet him while he is playing with, and reading stories to, his daughter. Almost immediately though, the atmosphere changes completely when Avi wakes from this dream and we realize, sadly, that his daughter has since passed away. Suddenly all the colour is drained from the film’s palette and we are left with gloomy dark greys and blues overtaking proceedings. Avi is now a miserable, depressed, and suicidal loner, estranged from his partner and lacking any urgency or sense of direction. When he is fired from his job, Avi begins spiralling further and further into the mire and makes the decision to visit the home where his daughter lost her life when he will then take his own life.
What is fascinating about Stern’s The Forgiving is the lead performance of Jon Gerard Healy. With other films that focus on writers with fragile mental states or journeys towards self-destruction, we are used to seeing histrionics from our protagonist with big performances from the actors. You think of the bombastic brilliance of Jack Nicholson in The Shining or the nervous energy of John Turturro in Barton Fink. Gerard is much more controlled and understated; he manages to convey Avi’s despair far more naturally. His decision to commit suicide is not highlighted or signalled, it is simply a decision he makes as if he’s choosing to have a cup of coffee or tea. Throughout the film, Healy’s Avi rarely raises his voice in anger.
The way Stern decides to frame his shots in the early stages of Avi’s descent enables the audience to see the isolation he is feeling. He uses a lot of medium close-ups and it enables us to read Avi’s eyes and see every thought. It’s a really strong performance from Gerard. That’s not to say he outshines the rest of the cast. They are quick to acknowledge how good Gerard is and all of the supporting actors manage to hold their own alongside him and they too bring their A-Game. Jenna Sokolowski plays Avi’s wife Beth and, although she has limited screen time, she makes the most of it. While Emily Classen’s Renata, who later becomes Avi’s muse and the key to the unlocking his redemption, shines.
Quality-wise, The Forgiving is generally a very well-made movie despite some minor issues. There were a number of scenes where I felt the lighting became much too dark, making it difficult to see everything that was going on in the shot, and the overall pace of the film did seem drag towards the end. A more disciplined editor may have been able to cut a few more scenes here or there just to help quicken the film along. Despite there not being a great deal of action, incident, or friction throughout the 103 minutes of The Forgiving, it does show some quality and Jon Gerard Healy’s performance as Avi is more than worth your time.