Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Forgotten

The Forgotten (2011)
Dir. Joe Rueben
Written by Gerald Di Pego
Starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Linus Roache

I’ve wanted to see this turkey ever since I saw the first trailers for it. And for good reason. If you haven’t seen the trailer or don’t remember it, I’d like to you take a moment and youtube that shit. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Believe me, it's worth it! But be sure to watch the whole thing.


OK! You're back. So, yeah. It starts off looking like any old unimaginative big studio psycho-thriller that Julianne Moore might star in, not all that different from that stupid FLIGHTPLAN one with Jodie Foster. Moore plays the stupidly-named Telly Paretta, a suburban mom with a respectable movie profession (book editor) who is trying to get over the death of her son. Only, suddenly all evidence of his existence is gone, and people are telling her she never had a son to begin with! Is she crazy, or is it more likely that there’s a massive conspiracy involving the government, magic, and an alcoholic ex-point guard for the NY Rangers? Good concept for a paranoid thriller, right? Can you trust your own sanity? Do you dare defy these shady authority figures and all logic and reason to fight for what you know in your heart to be right? And can you do it with even a hint of doubt that maybe this is all in your mind and you’re the crazy one after all?

Well, since you’ve seen the trailer, you know why I love this concept. Rather than taking the obvious path of “is-she-crazy-or-not,” which might potentially have resulted in a good movie, they instead dramatically put to rest any doubts in the last few seconds of the trailer when out of the blue fuckin aliens rip the roof off a house and abduct a guy right in front of their eyes. That is some crazy fucking hootch and I respect it. Whatever else it may be, explaining this standard conspiracy thriller with roof-stealing alien body snatchers is going for the fuckin’ gold. You’ve pretty much guaranteed that your movie is going to be either the best thing ever or a spectacular, hilarious camp classic. And I think by this point we have a good idea which one of those is more likely. Good job, producers of THE FORGOTTEN. I admire your hubris. Thing is, though, I assumed that they had carelessly ruined the ending for us in the trailer. I mean, after you’ve discovered it was aliens, where is there to go after that? So I never bothered watching the actual movie until now.

As you can see, this slick big studio production spared no expense, they got boxes of files, actors, the whole deal.

I was wrong, though. Not about the movie being an instant camp classic, because it is; I was wrong about them spoiling the ending. In fact, the ballsiness of this movie is such that the scene in the trailer occurs roughly halfways through. Our heroes correctly decide (based on no particular evidence) that aliens are responsible for all this maybe 30 minutes in. Which means the movie wastes precious little time pretending we care if Julianne Moore is crazy or not, and instead gets right down to demonstrating that the writers of this film are clearly crazy.

For once thing, apparently omnipotent alien overlords control our minds, the sky, and the very fabric of reality itself. They successfully erase the memories of our loved ones, destroy physical evidence, and rearrange the world as they see fit. Pretty scary, but if that’s true how can poor Julianne Moore prove she’s right, that this is all a coverup and she’s the only one who remembers? Well, these aliens are very good at what they do. They seamlessly erased her husband’s brain, blanked out her books of photos (why leave a photo album which is nothing but blank pages, as if that wasn’t going to arouse suspicion?) somehow managed to alter period newspaper articles --even on microfiche--, presumably also blanked the memory of every person who ever read those newspaper articles, as well as the computers of the people who wrote, published, and edited those articles, and physically erased all physical, legal, medical, and economic traces of this lady’s son. Alas, despite doing all that stuff really, really effectively, their Achilles heel is that they use shitty home decorating contractors. See, Julianne goes to see Jimmy “Dominic West” McNulty, who she knows is also the father of a missing child. He denies ever having a kid, but something catches her eye... what’s this, the room has recently had new wallpaper put up, but not particularly well and it’s kind of peeling away. She immediately knows the thing to do is rip off the new wallpaper, which reveals --dear god, this can’t be!!--  children’s drawings on the drywall! She was right, this is all a coverup! In this case literally!! Here’s a thought, aliens of the future: next time just spring for a new paint job.

For unknown reasons, this is the only image Roger Ebert chose to use to illustrate the movie for his review. In tribute to him, I include it here as well.

The movie is filled with wonderfully nutty shit like that. And since they’re not saving their big abduction scene for the finale, they get to reuse it several more times to increasingly hilarious effect. Every once in a while, someone will be talking, usually about to reveal helpful information, when suddenly whoosh! off into the sky with them. Not too many movies can promise that kind of effort. And the few that can definitely cannot boast a cast of classy A-listers and slick big-studio locations shoots. How many movies can offer a chance to see an Academy-award-winning actress react to her co-stars getting whisked off into the sky not once, not twice, but on four separate occasions? Too few, I say.

The movie needs that kind of ridiculousness, because in every other way it’s exactly the kind of standard, pretty, bland big-studio thriller that was getting released in the 2000’s. Remember all that shit, like ALONG CAME A SPIDER or TAKING LIVES and so forth? I dunno, I guess there are a few exceptions, but in general I think the rule is that the Big Studio process does not lend itself well to effective thrillers. They’re too big, too many egomaniacs want different things and want to throw their weight around, and the final result is always watered down, unfocused and tepid, despite the pretty production and better-than-average casts. It’s just not a good environment for someone who has a clear vision of a cool thriller.

Fortunately, Hollywood has a short memory, and in this case they hired someone they thought was just some hacky studio guy (he directed SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY and MONEY TRAIN). But had they looked back a little further into his resume, they’d have found that Joe Ruben was an established B movie director long before he ever met Julia Roberts, with committed ridiculousness like THE STEPFATHER, DREAMSCAPE, and THE POM-POM GIRLS clearly marking him as a guy who knows to never go just far enough when you have the option of going too far. Sure, the script by Gerald Di Pego (MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, INSTINCT, PHENOMENON) is as lazy and hacky as they come (sample line: “[shouts] Telly Paretta, stop! I'm Detective Pope! I tracked the man to this house. I shot him in the leg, and nothing. He is not human! I believe you!”) but Ruben knows to play it enthusiastically to the hilt, with no hint of the shame he should obviously feel. Occasionally, he even manages to throw something unironically good in there, for instance in his casting of the always excellent Linus Roache as the mysterious villain, or the photography in the final sequence which uses the hard geometry of the shadows in an aircraft hanger to lure some gothic expressionism into the frame. It’s long, long past the point where you could actually be involved in the story, of course, but hey, credit where credit’s due.

I'd just like to say that I think this guy Linus Roache is a fantastic actor, and look forward to the day when he might appear in a movie which was at all watchable.

I could sit here and list the many convoluted and whimsically absurd directions this thing takes, like when Dominic West’s alcoholism is cured by love or when you realize that the small airport outside NYC which is owned and operated by aliens has filed for bankruptcy and is having its assets seized (guess they didn’t feel like doing the whole mind-erase thing on the IRS?). But unfortunately, the movie is just slightly too shitty for me to wholeheartedly endorse as a nonstop yuk-fest, and mostly that is because it’s central protagonist is just a little too unlikable for it to be a completely fun experience. Obviously I’m glad the filmmakers approached this ridiculous concept as seriously as possible, but I wish they had let the two leads loosen up a little bit, or at least not be quite so dour. I know, I know, their children were kidnapped by evil aliens with poor financial practices, but they’re so singlemindedly focused on this minor problem that everything else gets ignored. I mean, I get it, you want to find your son, but don’t you find it even a little interesting that aliens exist? You never get the sense that Telly is interested in anything other than having yellow-tinted flashbacks of watching her smiling son laughing at a playground, or at the dinner table, or on the way to the airplane that carried him to his death (man, did that kid do anything except laugh?).

Maybe moms can identify with this character more than I could, but it actually just seems kind of pathetic that this lady is so fuckin' obsessed with this dead kid that she doesn’t give a shit about her job, about the aliens, or even about her poor husband, who also gets his mind erased but she doesn’t seem too bothered about it or ever mention it again. She keeps finding people who can give her information about the conspiracy, but every time they try to explain what’s going on she cuts them off and says she only cares what happened to her son. Lady, we, the audience, would actually like to hear about this stuff, pipe down for a minute. Your son isn’t getting any deader while we actually hear some details about an awesome alien conspiracy. Although in fairness, when the aliens actually get to explain their plan a little, it doesn’t turn out to be very interesting and all they can think to do is make scary faces at her. Even the aliens don’t seem to be trying that hard, so I guess you can’t really blame her that she openly does not give a shit. But still, fun as it is to watch something this silly unfold in dead seriousness, it’s kind of a bummer that the leads are such wet blankets. At least McNulty gets a quip or two early on (“Do you get drunk every night?” “No, sometimes I’m drunk by noon.”).

Anyway, hardly required viewing, but I must admit there is something kind of magical about a story this dumb getting the slick big studio A-list treatment. If you absolutely must watch a film which has both a scene of Julianne Moore and Dominic West eating Oreos together and a plot point about aliens having their assets seized by the IRS, you could definitely do worse.

scary face.

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