Joseph Ruben’s latest thriller certainly is a thought provoking piece of work. It got me thinking about how Hollywood types can’t seem to stop themselves from running every new trend and gimmick into the ground. I’m not sure which I’m more tired of: movies about memory loss or movies constructed around big surprise endings.
In pictures like “Memento”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and the “Bourne” series, central characters are faced with problems brought on by their forgetfulness. Working from a script by Gerald Di Pego, Ruben (“The Stepfather”) flips the formula. In “The Forgotten”, Julianne Moore plays a mother in her 14th month of grieving the loss of her 8 year old son who died in a plane crash. Things go from bad to weird for the woman when everyone from her shrink (Gary Sinise) to her husband (Anthony Edwards) begins to maintain that the boy never existed.
The film achieves bonafide creepiness in its early innings as the child’s image vanishes from photographs and Moore is shocked to find that close friends have no recollection of her child. Slowly but surely, everyone she knows seems to forget everything about this one slice of her life.
Is she losing her mind? “Paramnesia” is the diagnosis of her psychiatrist. He explains that, in rare cases, people respond to traumatic events by inventing alternative lives complete with imaginary friends, families and children. Sinise and Edwards assure her that this is the nature of her delusion and the death of a newborn was the tragedy that triggered it.
She’s this close to believing them when she bumps into the father of a little girl who perished in the same crash she supposedly imagined. Consistent with the paramnesia explanation, the fellow-an ex hockey pro played by Dominic West-claims he never had a daughter. Imagine his surprise then when Moore pops by his apartment, peeks into the room he uses as an office, notices a hole in the wall fabric, rips it all off and reveals what indisputably was once upon a time the room of a young child.
It takes him a while but West eventually regains his memory of the child. This is about the time mysterious government agents enter the picture and commence chasing the two all over town. For an Academy Award winning actress, Julianne Moore sure spends a lot of time running down streets and alley ways in this movie. Here again, the film got me to thinking: I wondered whether her preparation for the role included work with a track coach. Or maybe repeated viewings of “Seabiscuit”.
The middle of the movie has little to offer other than ample opportunity to visit the restroom or the concession counter. You could hit both in fact and make a few calls on the lobby payphone to boot without missing much besides Moore and West getting chased.
An hour or so into the 89 minute film a mindboggling thought occurs to the pair. What if their kids are still alive? Who or what could possibly pull off such a conspiracy, causing the disappearance of six children and erasing all trace that they had ever led young lives? And why would anyone want to do such a thing?
Cue the big surprise. Only it’s neither big nor surprising. It’s precisely what you think it’s going to be but hope against hope the movie’s creators won’t stoop to. But stoop they do and the result is a final act as lacking in logic and originality as it is in shock value. Movie critic law, of course, forbids my saying more about the ending (except that M. Night Shyamalan’s probably sitting in front of his PC right this minute deleting the last few pages of his next lame script.)
What I can do is warn you that the same lack of logic pervades many of the film’s preceding scenes. If you bother with “The Forgotten”, ask yourself afterward these questions:
Given who’s behind the conspiracy, isn’t it a tad unlikely such a poor wallpapering job would’ve been done on the missing girl’s room? With so many people getting sucked up into the sky when they threaten the success of the conspiracy, why isn’t West sucked up the minute he remembers his daughter? How does Moore know her sidekick didn’t drink before his little girl disappeared? They were casual acquaintances at most. And, finally, just what were those mysterious government agents going to do with West and Moore if they ever did catch them? Given what we ultimately learn, their presence in the story is superfluous to put it kindly. Dopey, derivative and a big fat waste of time is really more like it.
There’s no excuse for a big budget Hollywood production having as many holes and loose ends as this one. Come to think of it, there’s no excuse for a big budget Hollywood production like this one at all.