September 17, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “The Forgiven,” “Dashcam” & “Montana Story”


THE FORGIVEN (Focus/Universal – TBD):  In 1963, Pauline Kael famously wrote a piece entitled “The Sick-Soul-Of-Europe Parties,” and almost 60 years later, if you add the US to the guest list, John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven presents a bash in the same vein.  McDonagh’s script, based on a novel by Lawrence Osborne, underlines in the heaviest possible bold type that westerners are absolutely the worst, and while there’s plenty of real-life evidence to confirm that, it’s not clear that much new information is being offered here.  The locale is Morocco, where Richard (Matt Smith) and Dally (Caleb Landry-Jones) are throwing a weekend-long extravaganza at their villa in the desert.  They’ve invited all their friends, many of whom they despise, for a celebration of indolence and bad behavior that features a heavy dose of cultural insensitivity and outright racism, while the natives who act as their servants observe with contempt, envy and barely-suppressed rage.  A crisis occurs when the inebriated David (Ralph Fiennes), behind the wheel when he shouldn’t be and distracted by (another) fight with his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain), accidentally runs down and kills a young Bedouin boy.  David hopes to get away with his hit and run, but the boy’s father Abdullah (Ismail Kanater) demands that David accompany him to the boy’s home to witness the funeral and repent for his sin.  We then intercut between the tone-deaf parties that are still going on at the villa, and David’s journey into the sparse, traditional world of the Bedouin.  There’s some wit to the dialogue here, and Fiennes effectively conveys David’s rediscovery of something like a conscience, but much of the tone is cartoonish (on both ends:  Abdullah is invariably dignified and old-world wise, just as the villa’s guests are narcissistic monsters), so it has little incisiveness or impact.  The film is handsome and well-crafted in all respects–the photography is by Larry Smith, who shot Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Willem Smit’s production design shuttles between the sumptuousness of Richard and Dally’s surroundings and Abdullah’s sparse poverty–and yet when it’s over, one mostly feels like it would have been more interesting to watch Fiennes and Chastain in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

DASHCAM (Blumhouse – TBD):  The young British director Rob Savage created Host, praised as one of the signature and most ingenious horror movies of the pandemic era.  His follow-up DASHCAM, though, is an utter mess.  It centers on Annie Hardy, who plays a variation on herself, host of a seemingly perpetual livestream music show called “Band Cam” where she interacts obnoxiously with others and improvises raps.  (DASHCAM has a script credited to Savage, Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, but it appears like little was written beyond the basic plot.)  She’s also a Covid denier who refuses to wear masks, and that’s a key part of the film  DASHCAM is yet another found-footage horror picture, mostly shot from Hardy’s phone, either mounted on her dashboard or her cap when it’s not in her hands.  The plot, such as it is (the movie is just 77 minutes long, and 10 minutes of that are devoted to an end-credit sequence where Hardy improvises raps around most of the names of the cast and crew) follows Hardy as she hops on a plane from LA to London, barges in on an old friend and steals his car, and finds herself accompanied by a mute elderly woman who progresses from spewing out bodily fluids to murders committed under demonic possession–livestreaming the whole time.  That’s making the film sound more logical than it actually is.  Savage offers a cacophony of shaky camerawork, incoherent editing, a blasting soundtrack, and Hardy’s own charismatic but mostly unbearable persona, and to the audience for that I say Godspeed.

MONTANA STORY (no distrib):  Like The Power Of the Dog, Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Montana Story is set largely in the outdoors of that state, but instead of emphasizing the ominousness of the landscape, Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography (shot on actual film) is gloriously aware of the boundless space around the characters and the possibilities it suggests for change.  Despite the visuals, the plot of Montana Story is small-scale and straightforward.  The father of Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) has suffered a serious stroke and is in a coma, watched over at his ranch by the nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor).  Cal has been a dutiful son who’s stayed close to home, but Erin vanished years before, and Cal doesn’t even know how to contact her.  Nevertheless, Erin shows up, and there’s no shortage of resentments and history that have to be resolved.  Montana Story traverses familiar emotional territory–the biggest surprise about Erin’s secret is that it isn’t worse than it turns out to be–but it carefully and believably carries its characters from one step of their inner journey to the next.  Richardson, who’s seemed one good role away from stardom for the last several years after films like The Edge of Seventeen and Columbus, is exceptional here, a hostile and vulnerable collection of raw nerve endings, and Teague, in the less colorful role, builds Cal into a mix of good judgment and awful mistakes.  Montana Story may not have enough gas in its plotting tank to find a wide audience, but it’s a film that respects its characters and the audience, and it deserves some notice.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."