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THE FORGIVEN: 3 STARS. “undertones of exploitation of the poor and violence.”

A satire of the privilege enjoyed by the upper classes, “The Forgiven,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain and now playing in theatres, is a morality play almost completely without morality.

Based on the 2012 Lawrence Osborne novel of the same name, “The Forgiven” centers around a married couple on the way to a week-long bash in the desert of Morocco. He is the drunken, bigoted Brit David (Ralph Fiennes), she’s Jo (Jessica Chastain), a bored American with a sharp tongue.

After an afternoon of drinking, they head out into the Saharan darkness for the “long slog of a drive.” Along the way, “in the middle of bloody nowhere,” David, feeling the effects of the afternoon wine, hits and kills Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), a young fossil seller who stepped out in front of the car. They load the body into the backseat, and proceed to the party for dinner and more drinks. “The kid is a nobody,” David sneers.

The hosts (Matt Smith and Caleb Landry Jones), who brag they throw the best parties in all of West Africa, call the police, who quickly close the case, deeming it an accident. The next morning Driss’s father arrives, demanding that David accompany him to the boy’s burial. “It’s only right and proper that the man responsible for his death should do this,” the father says. “It’s the custom.”

David reluctantly agrees. “What does it matter one way or the other,” he says. “Everyone thinks I’m guilty.” David’s humbling journey stands in stark contrast to Jo, who takes advantage of the more hedonistic aspects of life back at the party.

“The Forgiven” is a story of the collision of the East and West. Director John Michael McDonagh places his wealthy, debauched characters in a place, where, because of their money and power, the rules simply don’t apply to them.

It’s an intriguing premise, played out in the movie’s dueling storylines; David and Jo, separated by distance and purpose, for most of the film’s running time. They are on different paths, but both are headed for some sort of comeuppance, the wage for their sins, but as the shroud of decadence covers Jo’s journey, and an existential dread clouds David’s, “The Forgiven” stops just short of providing some sort of enlightenment for its characters.

The undertones of exploitation of the poor and violence that are embedded in the story remain, but are left unchallenged. The ultimate understanding and judgement of the characters and the situation is left to the viewer to untangle.

With such rich material available, the vagueness of “The Forgiven” is frustrating, but compelling because of Fiennes, Chastain, Smith, Said Taghmaoui who brings real warmth to the character of driver Anouar and Mourad Zaoui as the perceptive house manager and translator Hamid.

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