Repentance (2014)


USA. 2014.


Director – Philippe Caland, Screenplay – Shintaro Shimosawa, Based on the Film The Guru and the Gypsy by Philippe Caland, Producers – Philippe Caland, Forest Whitaker & Nina Yang, Photography – Denis Maloney, Music – Mark Kilian, Visual Effects – Area 51, Special Effects Supervisor – Guy Clayton, Makeup Effects – Elvis Jones, Production Design – Ray Pumilia. Production Company – Codeblack Films/Significant Productions/Juntobox Films


Anthony Mackie (Tommy Carter), Forest Whitaker (Angel Sanchez), Sanaa Lathan (Maggie Carter), Mike Epps (Ben Carter), Ariana Neal (Francesca Sanchez), Nicole Ari Parker (Sophie Sanchez), Adella Gautier (Angel’s Mother)


Tommy Carter is a successful New Orleans life coach who has written a best-selling book about how he recovered following an accident. During a signing, he is approached by Angel Sanchez who begs for some one-on-one counselling but Tommy declines because he no longer does personal work. That night, Tommy’s brother Ben turns up in his apartment and reveals that he is being pursued by gangs for $12,000 owed. Tommy returns to Angel and agrees to the counselling in order to raise the money. In the process, he finds that Angel is haunted by the ghosts of family members. After several sessions, Tommy he says he can no longer continue. Angel responds by imprisoning Tommy in his cellar where he begins to torture him, all the while reading his inspirational advice back to him.

Repentance was the third directorial outing for Philippe Caland. Caland was a Lebanese immigrant to the US during the 1980s where he ran a chain of fried chicken restaurants. Following his girlfriend (later wife) Betsy Clark’s desire to act, Caland produced Jennifer Lynch’s debut film Boxing Helena (1993). This was followed by several other films, none of which gained particularly high profile, the most notable being the Matthew Broderick-directed Richard Feynman biopic Infinity (1996). Caland made his directorial debut with Hollywood Buddha (2003), an indie film poking fun at his own Hollywood experiences, followed by Ripple Effect (2007), which has a not dissimilar plot to Repentance, concerning Forest Whitaker trying to make amends for an error he made years earlier. The credits here claim that Repentance is based on Caland’s film The Guru and the Gypsy (2016), which was oddly not released until two years after this film.

The title and promotion for Repentance made me think that it was going to be a standard psycho-thriller or perhaps a revenge-action film. This makes one’s experience as you start watching decidedly confusing. As the film starts out with life coach Anthony Mackie being drawn in to Forest Whitaker’s world, before realising that Forest can see ghosts, it seems to be heading in a very different direction than you first thought. I was perfectly happy to go with this too – however, that is not what Repentance ends up being either as the ghosts are forgotten soon after and only make a reappearance at the end. After its first thirty minutes, Repentance does a strange dogleg and becomes an imprisonment thriller with Anthony Mackie locked up in Forest Whitaker’s basement as he feeds his positive thinking lines back at him.

This is occasionally interesting but Philippe Caland rarely ratchets up the suspense regarding Anthony Mackie’s plight or attempts to escape. The scenes where Forest Whitaker sits reading Mackie’s positive thinking sentiments back at him and taunting him about the inadequacy of his ideas have a black potential that you feel a more genre-indentifying thriller would have pushed to a greater extreme. Indeed, you reach the end of Repentance realising that Caland had no interest in the film as a thriller, all he has done is another variant on his other films where a protagonist is forced to reflect on the cost the mistakes he has made have had to others.

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