The Forgotten
M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   G A R Y   J O H N S O N

The Forgotten is an unusual movie in the sense that it never provides a complete solution for the mystery that unfolds. It drops a few hints along the way, but never does a moment arrive when someone sits down and explains what's been happening so that the theater audience can go, "Oh, now I get it."

Like The Matrix, in which the filmmakers dropped us into a baffling world where the rules of physics no longer seemed to apply, The Forgotten drops us into a world that initially looks familiar, but as the drama proceeds, we encounter several situations that beg for otherworldly explanations. However, whereas The Matrix arrives at a moment where the characters quite literally sit down to explain the bizarre goings-on that we have witnessed, The Forgotten allows the mysterious to remain mysterious.

The story gives us a mother named Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) who has been grieving for the past 14 months over the death of her son. Everyday she walks into his bedroom and ruminates on the physical evidence of his past existence (e.g., a baseball glove, a photo, his clothes, etc.). Her husband (Anthony Edwards of TV's ER) has been patient as his wife grieves, but his patience is no match for his wife's obsessive behavior. She explains her feelings to her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise), but nothing gives her comfort from the fact that her son is now dead. To the contrary, she insists her son is still alive.

This situation quickly becomes complicated when Telly looks at a family photo and finds her son's image is missing — and all the mementos of her son are now missing from their home. She accuses her husband of trying to obliterate her memory of her son. She finds some solace in the company of another parent whose daughter was killed. Ash Correll (Dominic West) has no recollection of his daughter. He drowns his sorrows with alcohol. Telly sees through the false front that he has adopted and forces him to confront the reality of his daughter's disappearance. Together, they then play detective and attempt to uncover what happened to the children.

At this point, the story presents several possibilities for Telly's behavior, with insanity being the leading suspect, and Ash is possibly just an alcoholic susceptible to Telly's ravings. After all, how can all traces of the children's existence have been obliterated? This scenario is the setup for plowing the fertile ground of paranoia, along the lines of The X-Files, and soon Telly and Ash refer to the disappearance of the children as "abductions." But who is responsible? Is it the government? Extraterrestrials? Supernatural beings? Or are the "abductions" simply figments of overly active imaginations?

I suspect the filmmakers are hoping that their coy approach will attract the cult movie fanatics who love to pour over every clue like conspiracy junkies. So instead of revealing all the why's and how's, we're given shadowy possibilities and suggestions. The problem is this approach only works when the filmmakers have established a truly complex and intriguing world that remains both complex and intriguing even after we see the mystery exposed. But here any solution to the bizarre goings-on would most likely render the movie's world insubstantial — and therefore the filmmakers back pedal furiously away from the solution.

Instead, we're supposed to find pathos in the suggestions that the movie makes about the nature of reality. The movie's imagery reinforces this approach. At one point we're even given a street scene from high overhead; from the long distance view, the street scene looks remarkably live a Petri dish (a rather witty use of mise en scene).

I suspect the explanations never come because many people in the theater audience would laugh out loud at the revelations. (In fact, during one of the movie's stranger sequences, unintentional laughter broke out during the preview screening.) However, enough hints are dropped that we can make guesses, and those hints point toward a simplistic Twilight Zone-type of solution — and a not-particularly-profound "what if" type of scenario.

The Forgotten contains many compelling ingredients, such as Julianne Moore's performance as the grieving mother (Moore manages to triumph over the sentimental material) and tantalizing pictorial compositions thanks to the camera work of Anasta N. Michos. However, in part, the drama is undercut by the unconvincing performance of Dominic West, who looks horribly out of place on screen alongside Moore. West is typically a decent actor in supporting roles (as in HBO's The Wire), but here too much depends on him figuring out how to put a genuinely compelling spin on the overly familiar lines he has been given to recite.

As Gerald Di Pego's screenplay (he also wrote Message in a Bottle and Phenomenon) stumbles badly near the end, providing us with an impossibly stupid police detective played by Alfre Woodard (usually a very fine actress), the movie becomes rushed, never hitting the peaks for which it aims. We're given shock effects that are meant to suck our jaws to the floor in disbelief, and they might have accomplished their goal if not for the clumsy handling of the drama by director Joseph Ruben. To pull off a fantastic drama like this one, you need a director with vision, such as the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix or M. Night Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense, but Rueben is too conventional, preferring to tug at our heartstrings by giving us overly sentimental flashbacks with Telly waving as her angelic son steps onto an airplane. (Ruben replays this footage ad infinitum.) Under Ruben's lackluster guidance and the bland inanities of Gerald Di Pego's screenplay, this sometimes-intriguing drama stumbles into a downward spiral from which it never recovers.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Sony Pictures
Movie Web site: The Forgotten



Photos: © 2004 Sony Pictures. All rights reserved.