I have not watched “The Forgiven” in several years, but the misadventure I largely financed back in the Fall of 2015 remains an indelible mark on my psyche. I am reminded daily of my foolhardy misuse of the ample funds then at my disposal. God bestowed His blessings, and I misspent them with the careless vigor of a man half my age. I pursued a dream without first recruiting a producer with enough real world wisdom to know that the “dream business” is foremost a business. Yes, there is a role for vision in a successful business; but, even more so, there is the necessity of wisdom born from a brew of experience, raw intelligence, and caution. I had none of those, and I did not have the foresight to recruit someone who did. The result is a bad movie that cost me $60,000 and to date has generated about $200 in revenue from overseas licensing agreements. The loss is palpable. Today, I am compelled to live paycheck to paycheck doing a job far removed from my artistic interests. I have written a good feature film script and have an experienced director ready to do the project with me in the lead role. I have the experience and the knowledge I did not have then. What I do not have is the first money needed to get the project off of the ground. That wad has been shot, and the result is a muzzle that is cold and lifeless.
Admittedly, I have considerable misgivings about “The Forgiven,” and yet I believe that I can look at my performance as “Jack Pike” with a fair and open mind. What is my self-assessment? In the hands of a seasoned actor, Jack Pike could have been a believable, if unremarkable, FBI Agent intent on finding the Reverend’s wife and daughter. He could never have been more than a stock character. The words on the page do not allow for more than that. Nevertheless, he could have been a solid “Joe Friday” whose questions set up the pivotal monologue where the Reverend at last comes clean about his own past. Instead, in my awkward hands, Jack Pike is an overripe caricature memorable only because of his ridiculous bluster. He is a bad joke that elicits a wince or an eye roll, when after the film is done he should be no more memorable than the wallpaper in the Reverend’s kitchen.
The problems are manifold. First, because I played the role, Jack Pike is fat. Real life FBI Agents are lean. Much like their counterparts in the military, they have the physique of runners. They do not waddle. They do not sweat profusely. They do not breathe loudly. In short, they are neither emphysemic nor diabetic.
Secondly, real life FBI Agents are strong, stoic, and mostly silent. They listen and observe for the most part, and when they do speak they do so without emotion or elaboration. My version is loud, buffoonish, and emotional. Far from the careful poker face surmising the truth out from the many lies, he is the whimpering dotard who makes a point of showing everyone his poker hand as soon as it is dealt. Given his caricatured good ol’ boy persona, he may have been believable as an emotionally immature and clueless sheriff. Even the comic version of that stock character though is subtler than my silly crybaby.
Then, there is the issue of motivation. I am fine with the fact that Jack Pike has been emotionally scarred from a previous child homicide case. What rubs me wrong today is that he starts off as antagonistic toward the Reverend whose wife and daughter have been kidnapped. Real life FBI Agents can and should maintain a healthy dose of skepticism, but until they sense prevarication there is no reason for them to be assholes especially toward an ostensible victim. The dialogue between Jack Pike and the Reverend is supposed to be dramatic. The intention is to heighten tension and to force the Reverend to come clean. In retrospect, that objective could have been better served if the FBI Agent had had no apparent axe to grind and had questioned the Reverend without any particular malice. By letting those questions and follow up comments speak for themselves, rather than trying to dramatize the dialogue with cheesy overacting, the internal logic of that conversation would have been the impetus for the Reverend’s eventual disclosure. We would have seen the Reverend come clean because he had been swayed by the dialogue, not because he had been badgered by a cartoonish fool, and that would have made his proverbial “come to Jesus” movement much more personal and profound. The Reverend’s act of coming clean would have had greater moral weight. Instead, the Reverend simply folds before the antics of a bully, and as a result there is no particular reason at that moment to attribute any moral strength in his confession.
“The Forgiven” is a bad movie. “Jack Pike” is one of the reasons the film fails. I do not know if I am ever going to have another opportunity to produce, to write, and to act in a feature film. If that never happens again, then my one contribution to film will be a reminder to other earnest filmmakers that the opportunity to put together a feature must never be squandered. The way to avoid that is to keep the immature dreamer in his place. Let his dream inspire, but give the final authority to a man who knows what he is doing.