A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, R, 89 mins.


Telly Paretta: Julianne Moore / Ash Correll: Dominic West / Dr. Munce: Gary Sinese / Det. Ann Pope: Alfrie Woodard / Friendly Man: Linus Roache / Jim Paretta: Anthony Edwards

Directed by Joeseph Ruben / Written by Gerald Di Pego


I find it next to impossible to discuss the following film in any level of discernable detail without revealing the film’s secrets.  So, consider this whole review one with SPOILERS.  You’ve been warned.

The new thriller THE FORGOTTEN is a film that suffers from what I call P.W.P. – or premise without payoff.  There is something enormously intriguing about the story’s basic idea – that of lost memories.  For example, what if  you were expressing grief over the loss of your child for over a year.  You do this day in and day out and even begin to seek out counseling to manage with your inner crisis.  Then, you wake up one morning and realize that everyone around does not have a clue what you are talking about.  Your doctor, friends, even your own spouse, have no memories of your child.  As a matter of fact, they have never even heard of your child.  Yet, you still hang on to memories of your lost child while everyone else around you thinks you’re insane. 

This is a fascinating premise that could have been done great justice by a better screenplay.  The notion of one remembering people that everyone else thinks never existed has a kind of haunting eeriness about it.  Is the person insane while everyone else is right?  Well, that would have made for a more thought-provoking and challenging film.  Unfortunately,  that’s not to be found here in THE FORGOTTEN, which culminates by letting us know that some evil forces are at bay, which is always the easiest possible explanation.   

I greatly enjoyed the patient setup of THE FORGOTTEN, which  has the foresight to develop its characters and story and gives the promise of some big reveal.  Yet, anyone with a sound head on their shoulders will be able to spot the reveal a mile away, and when we are finally let in on the “big secret”, it's one that not even Agent Mulder and Scully would find interesting.  The film tantalizes its audience for the first 40 minutes or so, and actually gives us an underlining sense of strange and dark ambiguity to the proceedings. 

Yet, the director and writer – Joseph Ruben and Gerald Di Pego – make the cardinal blunder of revealing the truth behind the story’s premise way too early, and when it does arrive it simultaneously inspires mixed feelings of “saw that coming” and “that’s all they could come up with”.  Yes, the answers to the film’s problems seem remarkably uninspiring.  The more stimulating choice for the story would be to actually make the main character insane and troubled by her “fake memories”, but alas, she is right all along and instead we are force- fed a lame story ripe with payoffs that smell foul.  I have rarely seen a film that goes from fascinating to stupid so quickly. 

The film is good only because of its first quarter of an hour and by the brilliant performance of Julianne Moore, who, despite the ridiculous nature of the film’s premise and resolution, does actually make us believe in the manic and tortured soul that tries to prove her point.  Telly Paretta (Moore) is a grieving mother at the beginning of the film who has been morning the loss of her 9-year-old son for over a year.  Her grieving, at least to me, seems natural and normal for a woman to engage in (it is quietly revealed that her son and friends went “missing” on an airplane trip, which in itself is a big hint, too big indeed, for later developments).  However, her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise, wasted here) wonders whether or not Telly is going a bit overboard with dealing with her fond memories of the past.  Everyday Telly visits Sam’s room, goes through his things, watches videos of his life, and so forth.  Her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) also seems to worry about Telly. 

Then, one day, strange things begin to happen to Telly.  Her car is not where she parked it one morning, her coffee she swears she was just drinking disappears, and then, most horrifically, all of her son’s personal effects, from photos, toys, and videos, just completely vanish.  She chastises her husband, thinking that he threw everything out in a way of trying to make her get over her son and get on with her life.  Then the remarkable happens: the husband, when confronted by her accusations, pleads that they never had a son.

Actually, that’s just the beginning of the bad news.  Jim further reveals that she once had a miscarriage and that all of her memories of her son – Sam – have been complete fabrications, maybe in some sort of post traumatic stress kind of way, as Sinise points out later.  Telly, of course, thinks that her husband and the doctor are the crazy ones, despite overwhelming lack of evidence to support even the existence of Sam.  In a fit, she leaves and desperately turns to her alcoholic neighbour, who she has believed has been drinking to get over the loss of his daughter, who also was on the same plane with Sam.  The neighbour (Dominic West) also thinks she is nuts and reveals that he had no daughter!   

What the hell is going on here?  How in the world could her shrink, her husband, all of her neighbours, even magazines and newspapers that covered the plane disappearance have now forgotten her child?  Well, the most obvious answer would be that, yes, Telly is completely mentally disturbed and needs help.  That would have been a much more fulfilling answer to the film’s captivating setup.  This, of course, would preclude that everyone else around her is, indeed, right and make her wrong, and that seems kind of sad, tragic, coarse, and ironic.  Or, the other possibility is that something else is at play here, and when two NSA agents start knocking on her door and later peruse her, then you just know that something otherworldly is at foot here.   Let’s just say that an alien presence is at work.  C’mon, who else could have had the power to erase and corrode everyone’s beliefs and memories and all of the physical evidence about the past?  Well, maybe the Bush Administration, but outside of that, definitely aliens!  

The film, by the point at which it is revealed that aliens are the cause, spirals out of control into one disturbingly silly incident to the other.  The opening first act carried so much promise that the remaining acts would be something captivating and interesting, but instead we are greeted with scenes of persistent NSA agents chasing down Telly in action set pieces that are about as routine as they get.  The film’s logic meter hits a swelling point countless times.  Consider: if you were a person that the NSA wanted to capture, would you still conduct yourself plainly in the outside world?  Moreover, wouldn’t a squad of NSA agents, not just one or two, engage in a team effort to capture Telly?  Would they not work in conjunction with the local authorities?  Oh, they do.  A few cops also chase them, as does a local investigator (Alfre Woodard), who rightfully wonders why the Feds are bothering with this woman, whom she thinks is just nuts.  In one moment of hilarity something happens that conveniently allows Woodard to believe Telly when everyone else thinks she is insane.  That is, of course, until she is taken off the case or, in this film’s instance, quite literally pulled off of the face of the earth, if you follow me.  Hint, hint.

You see, the aliens are never (for some strange reason)  shown in full form, nor is any ship or craft revealed to us.  Okay, there is one strange character that looks human but is obviously alien (which is, I guess, a clever disguise, especially is you are an alien and don’t want to blow your cover).  Yet, this “strange character” is so completely useless to the point of only being a voice of all of the necessary answers at the film’s conclusion which, in itself, will leave you scratching you’re head.  Telly’s confrontation with “him” is not so much tense and dynamic as it is desperate.  By this point in the film, the audience has invested so much patience in the story and have waited (and waited) for a satisfying outcome, to use any other term but desperate would be an understatement.  By this point the screenplay has written itself into a hole that it can’t dig itself out off and is subsequently forced to end itself quickly with a denouement that is about as cheap and manufactured as anything I’ve seen all year. 

If there is one element that makes THE FORGOTTEN worth watching then it is Julianne Moore’s thoughtful and convincing performance.  I say “convincing” because she really makes us believe that there is a tortured woman behind that frame, one that is so sure of her reality that she is willing to do anything to support it.  I would hate to say that Moore is wasted in this film, but I think that the more appropriate thing to say is that her great performance is wasted in the film.  THE FORGOTTEN is one of those rare cases that features million-dollar acting in a ten-cent plot.  For such a half-baked and disappointing narrative, Moore’s work here is effective, emotional, and straight as an arrow, which kind of brings itself above the sheer absurdity of the film. 

THE FORGOTTEN is invigorating enough to sit and watch for at least its first half and because of a strong lead performance, but it develops into something so absurd, like X-FILES meets COLUMBO meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  The film destroys everything that it worked to develop.  It does a very effective job at pulling you into its story and, at least for a little while, I was transfixed.  However, when the plot unfolds and secrets are revealed and explained,  THE FORGOTTEN clash lands something awful.  What we are left with is something that is stilted, manipulative, and so uninvolving in such large ways that a more preferable ending would have been “it was all just a dream.”   THE FORGOTTEN is one of those strange enigmatic films.  It’s both mesmerizing and preposterous at the same time, and I wish that I could have had my memory erased of the last hour of the film and filled with something more fulfilling.

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