The Good: Moments of acting, primarily by Julianne Moore.
The Bad: Abysmal plot, character, acting, Weak effects, Pacing, Sensibilities
The Basics: When Telly remembers a disappeared son who no one else does, she's set on a boring chase that is predictable, lackluster and underthought on the details.
In the process of meeting new people, one learns quite a bit by watching movies with them and seeing what they consider truly great films. Often, this may be enlightening as well as exciting. Sometimes, it is downright disappointing, like when I recently was subjected to the "great" film The Forgotten on DVD as part of an evening where I was doing chores for a new friend and her post-surgery bedridden mother. The Forgotten, as it turns out, was utterly forgettable, far from great and an all-around disappointment. Ultimately, in the choice between one and two stars, this one plummeted to the bottom when I recognized this: first viewings are a sacred thing for me. Yet, by the end of The Forgotten, I was doing Mystery Science Theater. Yeah, it's not a good sign.
Telly Paretta is a mother who is in therapy to get over the loss of her son, Sam, in a plane crash years prior. As she returns to the familiar objects: photo albums, videos, and a dresser that held all he possessed, Telly becomes increasingly disturbed to find no one remembers her son, the other children who were killed in the same plane accident or eventually her. The objects soon come up blank and her therapist, Dr. Munce attempts to convince Telly that Sam was just a figment of her imagination. Convinced by her own memories and the fact that another parent, Ash, recalls his daughter from the same incident, Telly and Ash soon find themselves on the run hunted by NSA forces and unknown entities determined to silence them in their quest to find the truth of what happened to the missing children.
Back when I was in college, I wrote a short story that began more or less like a typical investigation on NYPD Blue and ended up with an answer more akin to The X-Files. At the time, my stodgy author professor indicated that an author had to go one way or the other. You can't have rational people ending up with a fantastic answer. Films like Smilla's Sense Of Snow (reviewed here!) and - to a lesser extent - Memento seem to contradict that alleged truth with great success. The former might well be the litmus test in that regard for how a story can develop from one type tale into the other with a complete sense of rationality and process.
Unfortunately, The Forgotten is not like that. Similar in tone and structure to Jacob's Ladder, this film is ponderous, lagging and lacking. First of all, it makes no genuine sense. No, I'm not talking about the preponderance of circles seen from above that imply that everyone in the film is being watched. I'm not even suggesting that I can't go for a decent alien abduction/experimentation story. The problem with The Forgotten is that it implies that those performing such experiments are either clumsy, dim or their methodology is disproportionately applied.
The experiment, obviously, centers around Telly and the reactions she is receiving by those who know her best and who want very much to console her. Baffled by the insistence that she had a son when they all know she never did, they go from pity to fearing for her sanity. The thing is, if the experiment is truly about Telly, Ash's presence makes no sense. Moreover, the key scene in transforming Ash from one who has forgotten to one who believes Telly occurs when Telly uncovers the artwork her son Sam and Ash's daughter drew on the walls in Ash's apartment. Outside the utterly ridiculous notion that Telly just begins tearing down the wall dressings in Ash's apartment with no real consequences, the fundamental problem is that by this time in the film, all of Telly's physical objects have been erased. We, the viewers, are supposed to believe that a superior force that would have the ability to erase and alter memories, that has removed all photographs, videos and memorabilia from Telly's abode to torment her would leave an apartment full of clues in the one logical place for her to look?!
Come on doesn't even begin to cover it! This level of ridiculousness is such a peak of silliness that one wonders how this escaped those producing this flick. In other words, what starts as a good idea and the story that puts into question whether a woman is losing her mind or is the only one seeing the truth, falls down utterly on the details as it progresses.
The Forgotten is not aided in its quest for greatness by what seems like it ought to be an above-average cast. Alfre Woodard is relegated to a bit role that calls into question why they bothered to hire an actress of her caliber only to waste her talent with less than fifteen minutes worth of screentime. Gary Sinise is similarly understated and underused and by the time his character becomes important again, it's hard to care and the actor seems not to. Telly's husband is played by Anthony Edwards and he and Julianne Moore have absolutely no on-screen chemistry in The Forgotten, which seems like a terrible choice on the part of the actors and the director as it does not lend well to the feeling that something is lost. So, for example, once Jim forgets Telly, they meet and Edwards plays the scene without any sense of checking Moore out, as if his character would not have ever been attracted to her, which guts any resonance to the scene and their relationship.
The only thing more disappointing than this is how Dominic West plays Ash as an alcoholic upon whom alcohol seems to have no actual effect. Yes, West masterfully plays the man who is constantly drinking after noon, yet is still able to outrun the federal agents in their prime. Say it with me: Come on!
Julianne Moore also fails to thrill, though she begins the movie with a confused sensibility that was wonderfully convincing. In fact, it is her moments of presentation - albeit of a character who makes little genuine sense - that almost rescue this nightmare from complete oblivion. But again, Moore is forced to run, jump and portray a character who ultimately is undone by the the overwhelming plot-driven aspects of the film. Moore is unable to play Telly in a way that makes her vibrant and not bogged down by the plot.
On DVD, the film looks and sounds fine, which is unfortunate for the movie because the special effects are pretty ridiculous at points. There are shots that seem like they were lifted out of some of the better moments of Steven Spielberg's War Of The Worlds but fall down in this context. The result is that they appear silly. There is an alternate ending which I honestly could not stomach to sit through (even in the pursuit of an honest review). Other DVD bonuses include two featurettes, deleted scenes, and a commentary track that was one of the less interesting ones I've ever heard.
None of these serve to make the film more palatable. As someone biased toward this type of film, it speaks volumes that I found it to be a parody of itself. If you want a seriously amazing work that follows the tricks of memory and experimentation, check out Dark City (reviewed here!). Leave this one. Or, as cliche as it might be, forget about it.
For other works featuring Alfre Woodard, be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season Three
Homicide: Life On The Street - Season 6
Star Trek: First Contact
For other films, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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