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Movie Review: The Forgotten (2004)
Director: Joseph Reuben
Cast: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Anthony Edwards, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodward, Linus Roache
The Forgotten just might very well be the hardest movie I've ever written about. On the one hand, this is one of the most chillingly atmospheric thrillers of recent memory, and the solid performances ensure that it keeps your attention throughout its unusually short 91 minute running time (86 minutes if you don't count the end credits). On the other hand, the screenplay by Gerald DiPego is filled with so many holes and silly plot turns that it becomes downright maddening at times, especially during the closing moments of the film. There are too many things that work in The Forgotten to fully dismiss it, but once the central mystery finally reveals itself, it's hard not to feel a little let down.
Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, a New York City book editor who lost her son in a plane crash 14 months ago. Still mourning the loss of her child, she wakes up one morning to find that every picture and tape recording she had of her son has disappeared. At first, she believes that this is an attempt from her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) to help her let go, but soon she is informed by her psychiatrist, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), that she never had a son. She had a miscarriage, and for the past eight years she has been suffering from a trauma induced hallucination.
Refusing to accept this explanation, Telly tracks down an ex-hockey player named Ash Correll (Dominic West), who lost his daughter on the same plane crash that killed her son. At first, he doesn't remember ever having a daughter, but when Telly forces him to say his daughter's name, he slowly begins to remember. How can two people remember two different children that never existed? Are they both crazy, or is there something far more sinister at work? What do you think?
The first thirty minutes of The Forgotten are easily its strongest. Director Joseph Ruben subtly drops in little hints that Telly may, in fact, be out of her mind. She wakes up one morning and finds that her car isn't where she remembered parking it. When she visits with her psychiatrist, she seems to have misplaced her cup of coffee, until her doctor tells her she didn't have a cup today. “I can still taste it,” she argues. Ruben does such a successful job at toying with his audience during this portion of the film that when Jim and Dr. Munce tell her that she miscarried her child and has been hallucinating all this time, I was bound to believe it. It's a potentially tragic plot revelation, and Julianne Moore turns in such a heartbreaking and realistic performance that, had the film remained a story of a woman broken by the miscarriage of her child, I wouldn't have mind it. The ingredients were all there.
Of course, Ash eventually remembers his child (in an incredibly haunting scene), and soon the movie goes in a more X-Files like direction. This too, didn't bother me, especially considering there are a number of suspenseful interludes and effective jolts (there is one scene in particular that is bound to make movie goers jump out of their skins) sprinkled throughout the film. It's all very well-made as well. Cinematographer Anastos N. Michos films the movie in frigid blues and grays, giving the film an icy visual polish that is positively spellbinding (the film's opening shot, a bird's eye view of New York, is especially eye-catching). James Horner contributes to the atmosphere with an elegantly eerie musical score, and production designer Bill Groom manages to create a number of memorable and atmospheric sets (the isolated Long Island home; the dilapidated airport hanger; etc).
The performances are also very strong throughout. Moore brings a vulnerability and fierce determination to her role. Dominic West is likable as Telly's sidekick Ash, and is given some of the best lines in the film (When he wakes up one morning, hungover, to find Telly fixing coffee in his apartment, he asks, “Did we get married?”). Linus Roache has a sinister presence as a stranger who follows our heroes around, and Alfre Woodward turns in another solid performance as a friendly cop who wants to help Telly and Ash until she's taken off the case (in a manner of speaking). Sinise and Edwards aren't given a whole lot to do, but they are both commanding actors, and they manage to make the most out of their small roles.
The movie has so much going for it, that it's more than a little frustrating when those glaring plot holes and inconsistencies begin to rear their ugly heads. Thirty minutes into the film, a group of NSA agents are introduced to try and track Telly and Ash down. We assume these agents are working for the beings responsible for everything. They're introduced, chase Telly and Ash around for a time, and are then completely dropped from the movie all together half way through. There's no payoff to the NSA agents, leading one to wonder why DiPego even bothered putting them in the story in the first place.
Eventually, the movie reveals the truth about everything that's happened, and the big revelation leaves too many of the questions raised over the course of the film unanswered. This is especially true of that closing scene at the playground. Can anyone make sense out of it? It's a truly bizarre way to conclude the film, especially when you consider that certain characters (like Telly's husband and the Alfre Woodward character) are completely left out of the equation.
And yet, when the end credits started rolling, I could still feel this movie's spell working on me. The atmosphere is so strong in The Forgotten, and the acting is so good, that not even the film's botched climax was enough to completely cripple it. It's always frustrating to watch a potentially very good movie lose its way in the end, but when the elements that work in a film work as well as they do in The Forgotten, it makes it somewhat easier to forgive it of its failings.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)