Dominic West and Julianne Moore in Revolution Studios' The Forgotten - 2004
Photo Copyright Revolution Stu
M. Night Shyamalan, who, as far as I know, has nothing to do with this week's feature, is turning into the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas of his generation. And I don't mean that in a positive way. By reinventing the "shocker ending," the man has basically changed the thriller forever, much his two forebearers changed the meaning of "blockbuster." Now movies that don't even have remotely shocking endings are jumping on the bandwagon, trying to get a little of that "Shyamalan" energy. Take The Forgotten. Advertisements for this mid-level dramatic thriller promise "the biggest shocker ending since The Sixth Sense!!" This is simply a flat-out lie, though I'm not sure the writers are aware.
The Forgotten tells the story of Telly Parreta, Julianne Moore in fine form, grieving mother of ten-year-old Sam, killed in a plane crash fourteen months back.. Though she sees a therapist for depression, Telly can't seem to get past the loss, and it's tearing her life and her marriage apart. But when things start to disappear, Telly begins to question her own sanity. Pictures, videos, friends; suddenly, it's as if Sam never existed. Is Telly having a psychotic break, having simply invented Sam after a tragic miscarriage? Or is something far more sinister going on? These questions are apparently answered in a far more interesting movie because after a strong start, The Forgotten degenerates into standard conspiracy/chase flick with some great half-realized ideas and one really neat special effect. Though Julianne Moore and Dominic West, a fellow bereft parent on the lam with Telly, do their best, (and the acting is pretty good), nothing helps the disappointment you feel when you get to the end and realize that there is nothing more exciting going on than the very secret you become privy to forty-five minutes in.
Movies like this are a perilous affair and, again, I blame Shyamalan for making it look easy. The plot has to be engaging, but disarming and misleading. Details, which often fall apart on repeat viewings, must be flexible and open to interpretation. And most importantly, the end has to turn the world on it's head. Everything you thought was true is a lie, but here's a new, even more amazing reality to chew on. It's a tough row to hoe. But when you think about it, even the "master" hasn't really been able to make lightening strike twice. The Sixth Sense was brilliant, but Unbreakable, though underrated in my mind, failed to excite, and the last twenty minutes of Signs were a train wreck. Even The Village, which I personally enjoyed, was unable to draw people in the way his first film did. I was discussing this phenomenon with a director friend of mine (I'd name drop, but I'll let your imagination do it's work) and we decided that the only real successful shocker in recent memory, besides Sixth Sense, was the stellar Usual Suspects. And the difference is that that movie does it all with dialogue and character building, nary a flying saucer to be seen. All this brings me back to The Forgotten, which has the character building, but no real surprises, aside from a few well executed "gotchas." This film would have worked well if it had gone either farther with it's premise, or not far at all. Instead, it takes us just to the point where we need a mind-blowing conclusion, and leaves us there, not with ambiguity, but with deflation.
The film toys with the concept of invented memories, the powerful bonds of love, and the idea of mental reality versus physical reality. These are all worthy themes, and it's probably this very fact that is leaving me with such a negative impression of what is, essentially, a mediocre yet somewhat enjoyable thriller. Just don't tease me. Don't promise me something real, something powerful, and then leave me with, "oh well, ho hum." These sins are less forgivable than lackluster performances, pedestrian writing, and run-of-the-mill special effects. These sins suggest that there is good movie somewhere out there, but you can't see it. You have to be satisfied with this one, because the writers or the director or whoever couldn't get their head around the story they were trying to tell. At one point one of the shadowy bad guys tells Moore and West that "the truth wouldn't fit in your head!" Try me. Grade: C-
The Forgotten is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and mature themes.
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