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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

The Forgotten (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Joseph Ruben
Cast: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, Alfre Woodard, Linus Roache, Jessica Hecht, Robert Wisdom, Christopher Kovaleski, Kathryn Faughnan. Lee Tergesen, Tim Kang, Ann Dowd
2004 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for intense thematic material, mild violence, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 21, 2004.

PLEASE NOTE: Although I do not directly discuss any of the plot developments found in this film, some might consider there to be mild spoilers. For those wanting a completely fresh perspective, they would be advised to stop reading now and return to the review only after they have seen it.

A genre-bending exercise that begins as a tragic family drama, turns into a mystery, segues into a psychological thriller, and then goes right over the edge into pure science-fiction and horror territory, "The Forgotten" is an unnerving crackerjack entertainment that fully envelops the viewer's attention in a way few cinematic suspensers can manage. Looks can be deceiving, however, for as taut, bizarre, and, at times, downright eerie the first 95% of the film is, the culminating 5% places a calamitous pall over all that has come before. Simply put, director Joseph Ruben (1993's "The Good Son") and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego (2001's "Angel Eyes") have concocted an expertly paced and exceedingly intriguing experience that, when all of its cards are finally dealt, turns out to be an enormous waste of time and energy.

It has been fourteen months since her beloved 9-year-old son, Sam (Christopher Kovaleski), was killed in a plane crash, but Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) has yet to find a way to stop mourning her life-changing loss. Husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) attempts to be supportive and understanding, while psychiatrist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) explains to Telly that her only hope for a healthy mental state is to learn to move on. And then, one day, Telly returns home to discover her photo albums empty, her videotapes of Sam blank, and all other traces that he ever existed gone. No one—not Jim, not neighbor Eliot (Jessica Hecht), and not alcoholic Ash Correll (Dominic West), whose deceased daughter Telly remembers Sam was friends with before the accident—initially have any memory of the children. With most suspecting that her mind is unstable and the NSA closing in on her, Telly finally proves to herself that she is not sick when she finally breaks through to Ash and gets him to recall daughter Lauren (Kathryn Faughnan). There is no way two separate people could hold memories of children and a plane crash that never occurred, Telly reasons, and open-minded Detective Ann Pope (Alfre Woodard) recognizes a truth in her voice that she cannot deny. But what, then, is going on?

Unlike M. Night Shyamalan's most tightly developed endeavors—1999's "The Sixth Sense," 2000's "Unbreakable," and 2002's "Signs"—director Joseph Ruben and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego do not play fair with their audience. All of the guessing and hypothesizing in the world will not mean that anyone watching "The Forgotten" will be able to figure out its secrets, because the apparent clues lead nowhere, the major story points are not organically created, and the big revelation is woefully undernourished, bordering on laughable. Understandably, some audience members may not even realize when the so-called "twist" arrives during the anticlimax, because it is so vaguely constructed, flimsily explained, and thoroughly unsatisfying to what has come before it. A lot of head-scratching and unintended giggles will surely be met with the end credits, even from viewers—including myself—who were genuinely enraptured and spooked by the first 90 minutes. Not since 2004's "The Village" and 2003's "Matchstick Men," before it, has such a potentially great motion picture entirely and so quickly self-destructed due to a horrific cheat of an ending that moves past lackluster.

Ruminating on "The Forgotten" once it is over is a given—some will still be trying to work out the plot particulars in their minds, while others will munch on what everything meant and the reasons behind certain character actions—but thinking about it at all uncovers roughly as many glaring plot holes as Shia LaBeouf dug in 2003's appropriately titled "Holes." Careless inconsistencies, including what one particular character can and cannot do at any given time based on the requirements of the screenplay; how the central predicament of Telly's is finally solved; and the whole concept's purpose in the grand scheme of things, are also too plentiful to shrug off.

What a shame, too, as "The Forgotten" boasts some of the more seriously creepy movie moments in some time, and hints at so much promise for so long that one almost regrets having to criticize it. While a respectable thriller is lucky to hold one "jump-in-your-seat" moment, "The Forgotten" has two, and they are both stunningly actualized. The chase sequences, including one through dim, sprawling alleyways, and another within an abandoned airplane hangar, formulate real jittery tension and adrenaline. The classy music score by James Horner (2004's "Troy") adds a welcome helping of atmosphere, energizing the mystery that befalls Telly and Ash, and the cinematography by Anastas N. Michos (2003's "Duplex") richly portrays the gloriously foliating autumn months in and around New York City and Long Island. Abundant aerial and crane shots open the film up, giving it scope and an edgy voyeuristic feel.

Director Joseph Ruben involves the viewer in Telly's plight on a surprisingly meaningful level—Julianne Moore (2004's "Laws of Attraction") is achingly real as a mother mourning the death of her only child, and makes for a protagonist worth getting behind, to boot—but just as quickly pulls the rug out from under his audience. There are a number of deliciously oddball elements to Gerald Di Pego's script, scenes and occurrence that leave one disoriented and amazed in the best senses of the words (like one involving the very likable Alfre Woodard outside a country home), actively questioning what is going on. Ultimately, attempts at figuring out the mystery are fruitless, as the climactic unveiling of what has been occurring is a weak, pseudo-clever plot device and not something tangible to grasp onto. When the answers finally arrive, they come off as shrug-worthy afterthoughts that lack the profundity and power of what the preceding hour and a half have seemed to be building toward. Worse, they cheapen a motion picture of slick style, anxious excitement, technical craftsmanship, and, finally, deluding ambition, to the level of a mediocre episode of "The X-Files."

For its pilfering of a sheer promise never quite obtained, "The Forgotten" is one of 2004's most disappointing efforts. It is frightening and enthralling, and quite often, but the film's consummate thematic missteps cripple the project beyond repair.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman