(director/writer: Titus Kaphar; cinematographer: Lachlan Milne; editor: Ron Patane; music: Jherick Bischoff; cast: Andre Holland (Tarrell), John Earl Jelks (La’Ron), Andra Day (Aisha), Justin Hofstad (Tommy), Ian Foreman (Young Tarrell), Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (Joyce), Jaime Ray Newman (Janine),Tia Dionne Hodge (Regina), Daniel Michael Barriere (Jermaine), Matthew Elam (Quentin), G.L. McQueary (Michael); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Stephanie Allain, Derek Clanfrance, Jamie Patricof, Sean Cotton, Titus Kaphar; Shade Pictures; 2024)

“Emotional father-son drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The artist-turned-filmmaker Titus Kaphar, in his assured feature film debut, is the writer-director of this emotional father-son drama. In the end, he gives us hope that generational trauma can be overcome by finding love–as the title tells us, in his paintings he’s forgiving his father. He only flubs by being too melodramatic at times and his sparse screenplay sometimes short-changes us on the details (like not even telling us in what town the story takes place).

The sensitive story about the psychologically damaged but successful artist Tarrell (
Andre Holland), who still has nightmares from his childhood (which he uses for his paintings) and feels the pressure from mom to reconnect with his estranged, abusive, druggie father, La’Ron (John Earl Jelks, stage actor). But after years of separation and bad memories is reluctant to do so.

Kaphar’s effusive semi-autobiographical drama sympathizes with the artist who was abandoned at a time when he most needed a loving father.

The mentally hurting but gentle Tarrell has a beautiful singer wife (Andra Day) and a young son (
Daniel Michael Barriere), and is materially successful. He returns to his childhood home to help his religious mother (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), whom he has some differences with, move to a place that will be nearer to his home. While there he must confront his hated father.

Tarrell’s dad was homeless after his wife kicked him out for abusing her, and after wounded in a liquor store robbery checked into rehab and began to straighten out his life.

But Tarrell is still filled with anger and can’t take his monster dad’s olive branch, even if mom at last made peace with him and now wants the family whole again.
The tortured artist lives in an upscale house and has a comfortable studio, his comfort zone, where he paints and meditates to heal himself after his nightmares.

The beautiful but troubling art seen in a gallery exhibit, where rich white patrons compliment him on his complex paintings in the show without understanding his real pain, leaves him with a lost feeling (the paintings come from
Kaphar’s private art collection and there are some new ones made just for the film–as he’s a portrait painter of Black life).

It hurts when we realize the children of Tarrell’s paintings are pulled from the artist’s childhood nightmares.

The film’s strength is in contrasting the sensitive scenes of Tarrel raising his son with love and gently guiding him to find his own path in life compared with his abusive childhood that left him traumatized. We see in flashbacks how his father’s rage left him permanently angry and haunted. 

The artist can’t forget his terrible childhood, and ponders if he can ever forgive his father who so severely harmed him. He questions his mom’s Christian belief of forgiveness, wondering how you could really forgive someone if you don’t mean it. In the end, the film refuses to offer pat answers but lets the viewer come to their own conclusions on what he should do.

The thought-provoking film is grim, and makes for a tough watch. Though I found it worth seeing, I was not entertained by it.

Holland, the “Moonlight” actor, gives a great performance.

It played at the Sundance Film Festival.

Exhibiting Forgiveness