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Wednesday, June 8, 2005
The truth may be out there; this flick isn't
By KAORI SHOJI
Under the circumstances, "The Forgotten" has an unfortunate title: It just asks you to walk away and . . . well, just dismiss it from your memory.
The first half hour of the film is actually pretty intriguing; full of the promise of brain-teasing mystery, and heavily stylized, which helps offset the dark ensembles and flawless silhouette of Julianne Moore. But then it quickly degenerates into something straight out of an " X-Files" episode but minus the wry, dry humor.
When the phrase "alien abduction" starts being whispered, and a federal agent shouts things like: "The truth? The truth won't fit inside your brain!" -- it's time to shout back "Oh yeah?" and simply turn your attention to other, more important aspects. Like: How come Julianne Moore's hair, which in the film supposedly hasn't been washed for days, look so gorgeously immaculate, falling past her shoulders in a cascade of red and gold streaks? Or: Why is it that movies set in New York always have the characters live in huge maisonettes with fireplaces and tall windows instead of those dank, one-bedroom, leaky-bathroom places that still go for $1,800 a month? Questions, questions.
But that first half-hour does showcase the particular flair of director Joseph Reuben ("The Good Son," "Sleeping With the Enemy") for building a queasy, scary, what's-gonna-happen-next ambience.
In one scene, Moore's character, Telly Paretta, is in her shrink's office (all dark wood and mahogany furniture) and she suddenly looks at her hands and says, "Where's my coffee?" The shrink calmly explains that he had offered her some when she came in, but that she had refused. "That can't be. I know I was drinking it. I can still taste it in my mouth," she says desperately to the psychiatrist who remains blandly, maddeningly, unconvinced. The camera stays transfixed on her face and her eyes become shaded with panic. ("Am I going crazy?") This little exchange turns out to be a mere prelude to the onslaught of weird events that has Telly fleeing her comfortable Manhattan brownstone town-house with just $28, going without sleep and wearing the same clothes for days on end.
Telly had lost her 9-year-old son, Sam, in a plane crash 14 months ago and she still can't let go of the pain of her loss. Much of everyday is spent in her son's room poring over his toys and watching videotapes. Her husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards), is patient with her, but it's clear that he wants her to get over the tragedy and move on.
Telly's shrink Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) asks gently whether she's "enhancing" her memories of Sam and urges her to spend a little less time in his room. And then one afternoon she discovers Sam missing from a framed family photo, all the videotapes are blanks and Sam's things are gone. She blames Jim, who tells her she never had a son in the first place and that she had fabricated an entire history of their child after a traumatic miscarriage. Frantic, she goes to her doctor and a neighbor and she gets the same reply. There never was a Sam.
But Telly is determined and resolute and contacts a fellow parent, Ash (Dominic West), whose daughter had been on the same plane. An ex-hockey player now turned alcoholic, Ash, at first, can't remember ever having a daughter, but Telly shows him evidence to the contrary and something that had been buried deep in his conscience resurfaces. By this time, the Feds are after them along with a mysterious guy (Linus Roach) who turns up at intervals and doesn't bat an eyelid when Ash, with Telly in the car, runs him over in his car.
Local cop Anne Pope (Alfre Woodard) is in on the chase too, less from a desire to arrest Telly than a gut feeling that there's a lot more to this than a case of deranged mom gone violent, which is how the Feds explain it to her. In the meantime Telly and Ash run around, with no particular destination, but clear in the objective of getting their children back, for Telly is now certain that the accident never happened and the kids are alive somewhere.
If you forget about the abduction bit, there's a lot of material here for a sizzling love story, all the more effective for the total absence of love scenes. Ash and Telly are attracted to each other, but their need to retrieve the children comes first. Ash proves that he's a match for anything that stands in his way, whether it's a special agent or a superintelligent alien.
The wild, reckless and sexy Sam is a dead-on contrast to Jim, who appears to sleepwalk through both his marriage and Telly's crisis -- you can sense Telly is so ready to give him his marching orders once this fiasco is over. And then she'll probably start dating Ash. They can share a baby-sitter. Perhaps they'll form their own, secret alien-combat unit.
Really, with a movie like this, the imagination soars.