Trashy Thrills and Paranoid Fun in “The Forgotten”

by Eric Melin on September 24, 2004

in Print Reviews

This will be a tricky one. The one thing I really hate about your average movie review is the plot summary. I enjoy reading the opinions, but I detest having to wade through the section where the reviewer inevitably gives away entirely too much of the story for me to properly enjoy the film. On the other hand, how can you accurately discuss something without using specific examples to illustrate your ideas?

As a reader, though, I’ve even developed my own method of “skimming” reviews that I want to check out. It involves reading the lead paragraph, and then moving quickly over the next couple paragraphs’ key words without comprehending too much of their meaning, until it is obvious that the summary is finished. Any reviewer worth his/her weight in salted popcorn will end this standard part of the review after no more than a couple paragraphs.

Not only do I feel that summaries give away too much and sometimes spoil the “discovery” of the narrative, but I feel that extended ones are the mark of a lazy reviewer. Of course, when there’s not much to say, I find that I fall victim to this same crutch. I mean, how long can you analyze the parallel subtext and character development of a David Spade movie?

That said, I’ve just wasted three paragraphs rambling on and I haven’t even offered one opinion on Julianne Moore’s new supernatural thriller “The Forgotten.” Lazy reviewing? Maybe. But I’d like to think that I’m doing you a favor by filling up these paragraphs with an explanation about why they are not filled with a plot summary, rather than ruining your film-going experience with too much information. So here’s the quickie version, and what I reveal here is nothing beyond the first ten minutes anyway.

It’s been a year since her 9-year old son, Sam, was killed in a small plane crash, and grief-stricken New York book editor Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) cannot seem to let go. She gazes at photos and videotapes of her late son for hours every day, and sees a therapist (Gary Sinise), who tries in vain to help her move on with her life. Her long-suffering, yet supportive husband (Anthony Edwards) has reached the end of his rope, when Telly seems to make a breakthrough. Bear with me as I speak in broad terms.

Writer Gerald DiPego has written a screenplay so deviously simple and containing so little of the details that audiences feel they need that it sucks us in from the first shocking moment. A story can still be fun and exciting and still be left up to interpretation, you know! Like a trashy supermarket tabloid, we are drawn to its cheap thrills. Telly experiences the surreal events that have suddenly make up her life together with the audience. DiPego cleverly keeps us in the dark, throwing in some minor clues and some surprising shocks to the system along the way.

Director Joseph Ruben seems comfortable with the vicarious thrills inherent in a film like this, and with Moore holding down the lead role, it is easy to go along for the ride. “The Forgotten” ratchets up the pressure as its scope expands. The tension is punctuated by a couple of jaw-dropping moments that prove that a sprinkle of special effects when you least expect them are way more effective than today’s typical sensory overload.

Unlike “Memento” or “The Sixth Sense”, however, the details of “The Forgotten” do not hold up to intense scrutiny. There are some serious holes in its premise. Many of these flaws become apparent through an uneven supporting performance by Dominic West, who, as a fellow grieving parent, is called upon for some of the movie’s least believable character turnarounds. Admirably, Ruben chooses to keep up the quick pace, but West is never given proper time to digest huge mounds of important information.

Before opening weekend, “The Forgotten” had a marketing campaign that was smart enough to draw the audience in, but not reveal too much. But just yesterday, I saw a preview that gave away way too uch in just a matter of seconds. If you are at all interested in seeing this film, do not watch these new ads. It will affect your expectations of the story, and seriously hinder your enjoyment.

Reviewing the film without revealing anything is proving to be very difficult indeed. After all, the central theme explores the strong mental and physical bonds that develop between mother and son. But that’s not really what you’ll be talking about after going to see it. After all, it’s just a silly little paranoid thrill ride. But a damned fun one.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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