Movie Review - Repentance

Forest Whitaker (left) and Anthony Mackie
in a scene from "Repentance"
Philippe Caland has remade his film The Guru and the Gypsy. Unlike Michael Haneke who remade his film Funny Games, Caland has not done a shot-for-shot remake to his credit. He has re-imagined some things. Re-written by Shintaro Shimosawa, instead of a psychological drama, the movie is now a pulpy horror. It's borderline torture porn that has the same goals as Hard Candy (2005), but it doesn't have the courage to assign blame on anyone.

Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland and Panic Room) stars as Angel Sanchez, a single father in New Orleans who is having mental problems, as he tries to overcome the death of his mother whom he starts to hallucinate everywhere. His ex-wife Sophie, played by Nicole Ari Parker, knows of his past but still allows him to be a father to their daughter Francesca. Angel and Sophie may be separated but Angel still loves Sophie and wants her back. Yet, Sophie is hesitant.

Anthony Mackie (Night Catches Us and The Hurt Locker) co-stars as Thomas Carter, a book author and former therapist who is visited by Angel at a book signing. The book in question is one inspired by a car accident involving Thomas and his brother Ben, played by Mike Epps. Ben drops into Thomas' house unexpectedly, much to the chagrin of Thomas' wife Maggie, played by Sanaa Lathan. Maggie wants Ben gone because she realizes he's involved with shady people and things, so Thomas has to distance himself from his brother.

Meanwhile, Thomas recognizes Angel has mental problems and decides to become his therapist. They have sessions at Angel's house, and from there, things get crazy. If you've seen Hard Candy, it's the same exact setup. Angel didn't just go to Thomas' book signing by random chance. It was all with the purpose of luring Thomas to Angel's house, so Angel could trap Thomas and accuse him of killing his mother.

The majority of the movie is Angel trying to get Thomas to admit his guilt to the crime. Angel is convinced that Thomas is guilty, despite Thomas' adamant denials. The fact that Angel has mental problems puts doubt that Angel is credible. The scale isn't so tipped to one side as in Hard Candy. What undermines Angel's credibility further is his reliance on voodoo and New Orleans lore as his evidence and proof, which is to say no proof at all.

It gets to a point where one doubts Angel's credibility too much. Hard Candy was a bit more balanced, so that when the torture began to get at the truth, the audience could still empathize with the torturer. Angel goes further than the torturer in Hard Candy, inflicting actual bodily harm on Thomas. By the end, the filmmaker wants empathy for Angel, but because Angel's credibility is so undermined, it's impossible to do so.

Yes, he's wracked with grief. Yes, he has mental problems, but that's not enough. Angel should have been given more solid proof and evidence. Similarly, the final scene wants to bring Thomas to the point that he would kill, not Angel, his captor, but either himself or his brother, and the script has again not given anything solid enough to justify or understand that.

More could have been done to develop the relationship between Thomas and Ben. For example, I have no sense of the timeline, following the car crash and leading to their present situations.

Whitaker is of course great. It's also interesting to see that he, a black man, is playing a Hispanic man. His performance is stellar, especially in his scene with Parker where he seems desperate to impress her and show her that he can create a stable home. The ending, however, kills whatever hope was in that scene. It questions what exactly Angel's end game was.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for violence including torture, and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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