Reel Reviews | Exhibiting Forgiveness (Sundance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The bonds of love and the burdens of childhood trauma are explored in the gripping drama, Exhibiting Forgiveness.

Rising Black artist, Tarrell Rodin has been using his art to deal with his demons.  But his painful attempt at healing is interrupted when his mother, Joyce forces him to meet with his father, La’Ron, a recovering crack addict who is the source of his trauma.  While Tarrell wants to have nothing to do with his estranged father, he relents to the wishes of his loving and caring mother who knows that none of them can move forward without Exhibiting Forgiveness.

Exhibiting Forgiveness is the debut feature film from artist Titus Kaphar.  Kaphar wrote, directed, and supplied all the art seen in the film.  Forgiveness stars André Holland (Moonlight) as Tarrell, John Earl Jelks (New Amsterdam) as La’Ron, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Joyce.  Andra Day (The US v. Billie Holiday) also stars as Tarrell’s wife, Aisha, and Ian Foreman plays young Tarrell.

With a color palette as lively as the paintings that are featured in the movie, Titus Kaphar delivers a beautifully crafted cinematic powerhouse of a movie.  Kaphar uses his artistic vision to create gorgeous landscapes in the most common and unlikely areas of Los Angeles. For instance, he takes an abandoned community pool and turns it into a grand lake perfect for skipping stones.  Kaphar is also very adept at capturing and framing his subjects in the best environment, allowing them the opportunity to use the whole screen to project and create the emotional atmosphere necessary to connect with the audience.  With a cast of Holand, Jelks Ellis-Taylor, and Day, Kaphar is wise to give these tremendous talents the space to work.

And these actors work.  Their chemistry is perfect and each one of them has their moment.  Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, recently snubbed for her work in Origin, is equally fantastic here even though, by some ridiculous stretch of imagination, she plays a grandmother in this film.  Her range is incredible. Ellis-Taylor’s character serves as the linchpin for the entire movie, spurring others to interact.

John Earl Jelks is on another level.  Essentially, he plays a dual role in the film but he is equally genuine playing the hard-driving, borderline sadistic father dealing with his demons as he is playing the remorseful, recovering father trying to reconnect and make amends for his prior actions.  He forces the audience to pity him, then hate him, and then pity him again.  It is an incredible performance at the center of it all.

The most interesting thing about the film is its spirituality.  Kaphar does not shy away from presenting the Christian aspect of forgiveness.  He uses Bible verses and quotes, especially about forgiveness liberally.  Because the concepts are so deeply spiritual, it may prove hard to understand for those who are not familiar with forgiveness in the way it is presented in this film.  However, it can also become an opportunity for learning for the uninitiated.

Exhibiting Forgiveness has not yet been rated by the MPAA.  It is an incredible movie that looks beautiful and is well-acted.  The film will most likely not be seen until awards season later in the year. 

 Grade:  A