The Forgotten (2004)

Review first published by Movie Gazette

Joseph Ruben’’s ‘The Forgotten’ opens with a sweeping aerial view of New York City, before zeroing in on a group of young children playing in a park, and Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) sitting alone and disconsolate on a swing. Telly is unable to let go of the memory of Sam, her nine-year old son who was killed just over two years ago in an airplane accident. That evening, during a dinner with her estranged husband Jim (Anthony Edwards), Telly is distressed to discover that Sam’’s image has been erased from a family photo. Telly’’s psychiatrist Dr Munce (Gary Sinise) tries to convince her that Sam never actually existed, but is a paramnesiac delusion which her mind invented nine years ago to shelter her from the trauma of a miscarriage.

Sure enough, all signs of Sam’’s existence -– photo albums, a videotape, press clippings from the accident -– seem suddenly to have vanished into thin air. Yet when Telly locates Ash Corell (Dominic West), whom she remembers to be the father of another young victim of the accident, the pair set out to reclaim their children’’s reality and prove their own sanity. Constantly watched by a mysterious, impassive man (Linus Roache), and pursued by shadowy federal agents and a sympathetic police officer (Alfre Woodard), Telly and Ash uncover an earth-shattering conspiracy and cover-up that only a mad person could possibly believe.

At one point in the middle of this film, a character declares, ““’I’’m having a National Enquirer moment” -”– and that will more or less summarise many a viewer’s initial response to this film whose promising dramatic premise swiftly gives way to a dénouement so deliriously daft that it leaves viewers feeling stupefied, annoyed and not a little ripped off. Yet there is more to ‘The Forgotten’ than first meets the eye, and one of its neater tricks is to bombard you with so many improbable plot developments and unhinged details that its own much calmer starting point becomes part of what is soon forgotten. This is very much a film that plays one way in the cinema, and quite a different way (or ways) in your head afterwards as you try, along with Telly herself, to piece together what has happened from the most unstable and unreliable of evidence.

Consummate actress that she is, Julianne Moore manages to anchor the viewer to her character’’s reality even as she is hauled through the most mind-bendingly ridiculous of twists –- and Gary Sinise gives a perfect performance, treading the fine line between appearing professionally solicitous and downright sinister. If you want grief and conspiracy, you might prefer Fear X, and if you want maternity and madness, you might instead go for Dark Water –- but ‘The Forgotten’ has a surprising amount of subtlety to unravel if you can see beyond its brash surface – and even if you cannot, the surface is so insanely unpredictable that it will have even the stoniest viewer reeling (and possibly laughing) in shocked disbelief.

Summary: Two films in one – a mad rollercoaster thriller in the cinema, and a more subtle psychodrama in your head afterwards.

Anton Bitel