How Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment are selling a story of class, privilege and justice.
The Forgiven, out this week in theaters, is based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as David and Jo Henninger, a married couple traveling through Morocco to attend the party being thrown by their friend Richard (Matt Smith). On their way they accidentally hit and kill a young local with their car, but continue on to the party. With the help of Richard and the local police the incident is swept under the rug, but the father of the young man eventually arrives seeking the justice authorities aren’t interested in.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie arrives with a middling 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.
announcement and casting
Fiennes was attached to star when the movie was announced in mid-2018, but Chastain replaced the previously-cast Rebecca Hall in late 2019 at the same time Caleb Landry Jones joined. Smith and others were added in late 2020, around the same time a handful of first look stills were released.
The movie’s world premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment partnered on a distribution deal a few months after the festival.
the marketing campaign
It wasn’t until mid-May that the first trailer (14k YouTube views) came out. Jo and David are on their way to a party when it opens, but before they get there they hit a man walking across the road. Taking him with them to avoid any police inquiries, things get dark quickly as the incident leads to a confrontation with the boy’s father, a blowing up of the relationship between David and Jo and more drama as those with power think it will protect them from the consequences of their actions.
“Everything must be faced” declares the poster released at the same time. David and Jo look out pensively from the top of the image while, below a few positive quotes from critics, the bottom shows their car pulling toward the location of the lavish party they’re attending. It doesn’t do much beyond selling the two stars in an interesting setting.
Chastain and others were in attendance at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June.
And….that’s it? No additional interviews with the cast, no cut down trailers, not even a few original photos from the premiere at Tribeca.
I never ever want to hear anyone ever again complain that Netflix is burying one of its releases with a lackluster marketing campaign, something that passed as conventional wisdom just two or three weeks ago.
It’s not that I don’t think Roadside/Vertical have faith in the movie, it’s just that they seem realistic about the film’s future and so didn’t invest a lot of additional effort.