Years after a drunken car crash that almost took his life, Tommy Carter (Anthony Mackie) has reinvented himself as a successful therapist and life coach. When his book release catches the attention of Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker), a profoundly disturbed man fixated on the "untimely" death of his mother, Carter takes him on as a personal client. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as Angel dangerously spirals out of control.
Repentance is the kind of drama with a plot and tone as schizophrenic as its antagonist. What starts out as a man struggling to deal with death soon transforms into a psycho hostage situation. If it took the logical steps to get to that point, this could've been a very interesting story. Instead the movie veers off course abruptly into a moral ditch. It almost feels as though you were misled into seeing a completely different movie where the reels were messed up.
Forest Whitaker plays Angel Sanchez, a mentally unstable father reeling after the death of his wife. He seeks the guidance of self-help guru Tom Carter (Anthony Mackie), but Tom declines as he’s more of a writer than a coach. However, when Tom falls on hard financial times with his deadbeat brother, he finally agrees to help the tortured soul. It turns out that Angel is far more damaged than he previously thought with his constant visions of his dead wife. No matter how hard Tom tries, Angel is still haunted by his wife’s visage at nearly every turn. Tom even goes so far as to restage her funeral hoping to give Angel some closure, but to no avail. It makes Angel a deeply troubled individual that you start feeling pity and intrigue for his life.
But then the movie switches gears almost completely and turns into a horror film echoing Misery. Angel reverts to a completely different personality when he knocks out Tom and drags him down to his basement. He wraps him up in plastic and tortures the author by slitting his skin and screaming at him. His motivation is to peel back Tom’s life of sin and break him down to a lesser human being using his own self-help books as a reference. You’d think at this point in the movie Angel would be the antagonist because that’s how he appears. And yet the script still wants us to feel enough sympathy for this character while making Tom appear more shameful. This is just a baffling development and asks too much from the audience for what’s essentially a hostage-in-my-basement scenario with Whitaker preaching about karma while trying to keep the author hidden in his basement.
I think Forest Whitaker is an exceptional actor capable of great range which is why it feels like I’m watching him in two different movies with Repentance. We get to see Whitaker as both a quiet, sad father and an obsessed psychopath. He does such a fine job at playing both I wish the movie focussed on one specifically to give him some arcs to play with. Anthony Mackie has far better scenes to work with here, but he still has a rather unorthodox evolution in the second act. The conclusion he reaches after being physically beaten almost to death is such a bleak and awful perspective of life. And yet the way that scene is directed it almost sounds as if the movie wants us to see him go down that road of despair. This is a man who has done many things wrong in his life, but nothing so bad that he deserves to have his face cut open.
This movie is just such a mess with characters that are hardly developed or given proper arcs, yet we’re supposed to feel so much for them. It also becomes savagely grizzly with Angel constantly carving Tom’s flesh and forcing him into scenes where his skin is burned and his fingers removed. Remember, now, you’re supposed to sympathize with Angel’s plight. You keep getting the impression of a certain moral being preached, but it just ends up getting lost in the muck of a despicable plot with ill-defined characters. The entire final act of the movie is a bloody mess of laughably bad dialogue with an ending which feels like a made-for-TV movie. Forcing melodrama into a torture movie is not exactly my idea of entertainment and I pity anyone who truly feels that this is what makes a provocative psychological thriller.