Title: The Forgotten
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Joseph Ruben
Screenwriters: Gerald Di Pego
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Christopher Kovaleski
Oh, now this, you gotta see. Like Identity, Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten seems to be on a course for one mildly interesting destination, but takes a sharp left somewhere along the way, taking us in a direction that’s bizarre, surprising and audacious — not in the subject matter, perhaps, but certainly in tone and execution. There will be comparisons to The X-Files and The Twilight Zone, but for me such parallels are more enticing than anything else: when was the last time we got something as good as The X-Files in its heyday? Once I realized where this thing was going — and blinked several times to make sure I wasn’t imagining it — I became much more willing to overlook the flaws in plot mechanics and the ridiculous screenwriting, grooving on Ruben’s surprising visual acuity and the startlingly literal visualizations of classic science-fiction concepts.
The screenwriter is Gerald Di Pego, whose resume of Message in a Bottle, Instinct and Angel Eyes does not inspire hope. And indeed, as a thriller screenwriter, his skills are at best questionable: the way the story moves doesn’t always make a hell of a lot of sense (say, that wallpaper is a cheat, isn’t it?), the characters’ dialogue is clunky, exposition-laden, and often absurd (Julianne Moore’s interrogation of Lee Tergesen is a nadir). But credit him for constructing the movie so ingeniously, switching genres in midstream, and crafting a genuine surprise out of a plot twist that might otherwise have been just laughable.
Credit Joseph Ruben, too, for taking this very, very problematic screenplay and making something elegant and intense. I enjoyed the nuance in his camerawork — watch the way the the camera subtly seems to search for something in the opening overhead pan — and his genuinely striking imagery, one instance of which sent the audience into apoplexy. It’s a great moment — you’ll know it when you see it — and one of several that may make you gasp. Ruben rarely takes the conventional approach to startling the audience, and even the same old tricks tend to take on new forms here.
I found myself becoming actively irritated with the people around me during the screening, as they tended to meet each revelation with a chortle or several. Perhaps this is simply indicative of different approaches to a genre — whereas what was happening was serious business to me despite its outlandishness, everyone else just took it as riotous, possibly nonsensical, “what the hell” entertainment. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve grown too cynical for this sort of thing; yeah, I know this isn’t what you bargained for, but couldn’t you play along?
Issues abound, as I’ve already expressed. The ending proper has to be considered a letdown, as the movie stops just shy of testing truly spectacular waters, going for a safe, easy wrap-up instead of something that might have challenged us. The script relies too much on foot chases, and that inevitable scene where our protagonists hide just out of sight of the villains, one of whom almost discovers them but gets called away on his walkie-talkie in the nick of time. And Dominic West, we must all admit, isn’t much of an actor, and less of an action hero.
But none of this can fatally wound the film, which engaged me every step of the way, confounding my expectations, showing me some things I didn’t think I’d ever see, at least not quite like this. I may have been too cryptic here and led you too expect something groundbreaking — it’s not, really. But the way that Ruben and Di Pego present this otherwise well-trodden material, the discrepancy between the way it seems to be going and what’s actually going on, is fairly impressive. You might laugh, like some of my moviegoing compatriots, or you might react the way I did, with eyes wide and mouth slightly agape. With my plausibility sensor safely disengaged, The Forgotten was a workout for my imagination.