**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard
screenplay by Gerald DiPego
directed by Joseph Ruben
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. I couldn't really understand at the time why Dark City didn't arouse imaginations. I resented the following year's The Matrix for stealing some of Dark City's thunder; I blamed a lack of vision and a general disdain for genre. Now I wonder if it wasn't a matter of the film coming out a few years ahead of its time. Maybe it was just too light for the Age of Irony. Maybe it was too apocalyptic a vision for a people who had yet to experience an apocalypse in their own backyard. But there are certain prescient pictures that point north, films like The Truman Show that I underestimated like I thought everyone else underestimated Dark City, or films that remain underestimated, such as Strange Days and Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's most uncompromising film since Brazil. It's the duty of some movies to draw the outlines in chalk, set the groundwork, dig the foundation for the way that speculative fiction will seek to define this culture in the aftermath of an inflamed fault line even before the dime drops. Just before Y2K, we dug ourselves into cinematic bunkers in preparation for some kind of technological apocalypse. Who would have suspected that the shape of our crucible would be not faulty microchips and mainframes, but assault rifles, airplanes, leadership without vision, and children without protection from leadership without vision?
It made sense that we'd get a lot of stuff about the end of days (like End of Days) at a scary milestone in calendar history, and it makes sense again that three years post-9/11 (and five years after a weird spate of school shootings in the United States), there's another group of films that deal with existential dislocation and truth-finding. The twist now is that forgetfulness holds a kind of allure it never did before--fair to wonder if Jim Carrey's Truman wouldn't have a harder time electing to leave his bubble if The Truman Show were made today. Carrey's Joel of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is seduced by the promise of forgetfulness, after all, before he, too, fights against a life inauthentic. (At the end of all the jibber-jabber, The Matrix films can be reduced--especially the two sequels--to a Romanticist rejection of industrial memory-alteration.) Joseph Ruben, a director responsible for a few films that I've really liked (The Stepfather, True Believer) and others not so much (Sleeping with the Enemy, Gorp), contributes to the conversation after a fashion with the fitfully fascinating, fitfully entertaining, sometimes mishandled The Forgotten.
Telly (Julianne Moore) has lost a child in a small plane crash. So has Ash (Dominic West), though Ash can't remember his daughter, and neither Telly's husband (Anthony Edwards) nor her shrink (Gary Sinise) can remember Telly's son. She might be crazy, she might have been hallucinating her kid as a consequence of a psychotic break following a miscarriage--still doesn't explain the men in black trying to chase her down. The Forgotten indulges in the Dark City fantasy that in the face of alien invasion, there will be one saviour to rise amongst the sheep and lead humanity out of bondage, and that saviour's power will be little more than that ineffable ideal of humanity. The film is hopeful and humanistic, then, more closely allied to the feminine grace of Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and Code 46 than to the macho-military brainwash of Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate. The Forgotten implies that the bond between a mother and child is so strong that even alien anthropologists are helpless against it (Kill Bill, Vol. 2 suggests instinct's immunity against bullets, Code 46 against the laws and machines of man), a struggle against forgetfulness when calamity robs us of loved ones.
Though this seems like a surface conceit (Mildred Pierce restructured for the new millennium), it has resonance that goes beyond some slickified estrogen melodrama, if only because of its timing. The Forgotten speaks to the idea that our media is constantly, pathologically engaged in not only making us forget about tragedy, but also whitewashing what we do remember into the parameters of an artificial holiday or, stranger yet, a moment of triumph. That an incumbent president would use the worst loss of life inflicted by a foreign enemy on our native soil as a source of pride is symptomatic of our media-aided selective amnesia. I don't think that FDR used Pearl Harbor as a campaign platform--to merely consider it would have been an illness. (That it's working underscores Jane Campion's brilliant suggestion in last year's In the Cut that all of the United States is an asylum or a hospice.) The Forgotten has its place in an environment that vacillates between insanity and nihilism. Its story of a woman fighting against the salving of her pain ("Don't ask me to forget," she warns both her hubby and her psychiatrist) is the perfect metaphor for the importance of viscera in the remembrance of offense--Jack Nicholson spraying the inmates of the cuckoo's nest.
Ruben can be a very fine B-action director, and his decision with The Forgotten to set the preponderance of his establishing shots as undefined points-of-view that peer voyeuristically at Telly and eventual compatriot Ash through warped windows, open doorways, and extreme God's-eye, pays off in a general feeling of paranoid unrest. Visually, Ruben minimizes his heroes in a very horror-movie way, suggesting that any one of them at any moment could fall prey to the watcher in the woods. (To his credit, most of them do.) Alfre Woodard appears in a fine cameo as hardscrabble detective Pope, her appearance here with Sinise all but announcing the kind of middlebrow gleam to which the film aspires. And it's that idea of familiarity that ultimately causes The Forgotten to fall short of its potential: there's way too much information provided by an ancillary character (compare with the intricacy of the involvement of the narrator of Dark City), and the twists and turns--with the exception of one marvellous, terrifying moment--are telegraphed, enough so that they're neutered of most of their weight. The Forgotten is, in other words, a really interesting film that doesn't always work that well. To the extent that it does work speaks to the gameness of its cast and Ruben's direction. Had its screenplay not been quite so riddled with inconsistencies and dead spots, The Forgotten would have been curious for more than its timing. Originally published: September 24, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Columbia TriStar (evidently back from a brief sojourn as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) presents The Forgotten on DVD in a configuration similar to their release of Identity, with seamless branching reintegrating the supplemental deleted scenes and alternate ending into the movie. As for their content, these elisions don't enrich the film in any way: in the first, Gary Sinise makes a brief, cryptic phone call to Anthony Edwards; in the second, the blossoming romance between Julianne Moore and Dominic West goes from implicit to the tiniest bit explicit; and the substitute closer takes a laborious route to familiar territory. (Note that the "extended version" is actually the shorter option by about a minute. Furthering the confusion, the cover art lists a generic running time of 91 minutes.) Transferred at 1.82:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, the theatrical version looks sensational, although it wants for more detailed shadows; perhaps blacks were crushed on purpose, as the image in and of itself has enough surface clarity to betray substantial--if unobjectionable--grain. The extra footage is a little rougher around the edges and in 2.0 stereo, though thankfully not in 4:3 as it is when accessed separately through the special features menu. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is one of a handful I've heard recently that registers with the impact of a good DTS track--if you want to scare the bejesus out of guests, cue up chapters 13 or 20 and stand back.
Director Joseph Ruben and screenwriter Gerald DiPego contribute a film-length commentary that's unique for Ruben's ultimately ineffectual memos to himself to keep talking and not fall silent watching the movie. At one point he laments the appearance of an alleged boom mike, something that must've been matted out in the interim. DiPego, learning the lesson of Jerry Zucker's razzing of Bruce Joel Rubin on the Ghost DVD, keeps the demons of pretension at bay, and his best anecdote--that he literally dreamed up the script--opens both the yakker and the Light Source & Imagery-produced featurette "Remembering The Forgotten" (20 mins.), where talking heads with the two commentators are joined by interviews with the entire principal cast, producer Bruce Cohen, F/X supervisor Carey Villegas, and others. Therein, Alfre Woodard speculates that women make better detectives because of their oft-invoked "intuition," which is by itself more substantial than anything said in the complementary "On the Set: The Making of The Forgotten" (14 mins.), a deceptively-labelled Electronic Press Kit. A block of trailers for Are We There Yet?, Guess Who (a roles-reversed remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner starring Ashton Kutcher--please tell me this is some elaborate punking), and The Grudge starts up automatically upon inserting the disc; those same trailers join two for The Forgotten and one each for Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Spanglish, Little Black Book, The Boogeyman, and The Fifth Element Ultimate Edition under the sub-heading "previews." A shiny cardboard sleeve superfluously hugs the keepcase. Originally published: January 10, 2004.