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The idea driving The Forgotten is promising. Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta, a mother still in the throes of grief from the death of her eight-year-old son in a plane crash the year before. She fondles artifacts from his short life, leafs through photo albums, watches videotapes of him as an infant, a toddler, a boy in little league. Then, one day, every trace of her son vanishes from family photos and videotapes and her psychiatrist and her husband both assure her that the child never existed.
Telly must contend, not only with a husband and physician trying to convince her that she’s delusional, but with government agents who seem oddly intent on taking her into custody. Trusting her own memory rather than what everyone else is telling her (including the media, which has expunged all references to her son’s plane crash), Telly is soon on the run along with ex-hockey player Ash Correll (Dominic West) another parent who’s had an almost identical experience. In an era where history is being revised and rewritten just weeks after it takes place, this premise could have put The Forgotten in the category of films like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and Jacob’s Ladder as a fascinating and timely addition to the Cinema of Paranoia.
Unfortunately, director Joseph Ruben and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego opted instead to make an adventure yarn and a paean to mother love and the result is a film that ignores its own implications. The horrifying concept of a force that can erase memory comes across in this movie as little more than an obstacle to Telly proving the reality of her son’s existence. In a scene where she discovers that she, like her child, is being "forgotten" by those who loved her, Telly seems less heartbroken than profoundly frustrated. Such an experience should be terrifying, but Moore walks away from it looking as if her vanity rather than her entire concept of reality has been shaken.
Worst of all is the sheer cynicism masquerading as sentimentality that drives this movie. One gets the sense that, as far as the filmmakers are concerned, all that matters is whether or not Telly and Ash can reclaim their status as parents. The audience is ultimately expected to either forget the vast (if silly and unbelievable) conspiracy driving the plot, or accept the notion that restoring Telly’s son to her would make everything all right.
There is suspense, but it’s that of an ordinary action film — foot-chases and car chases, and lots of loud, unexpected explosions. Every now and then a character gets swooshed into oblivion, snatched upwards by some invisible force and reduced to a tiny figure struggling against the sky before disappearing entirely. It’s at first a disturbing sight but it becomes so predictable that it quickly loses its effectiveness.
Not even Julianne Moore can do much with this script, though she tries. Anthony Edwards plays her husband, who qualifies as little more than an extraneous plot point, as does Alfre Woodard, who has the pointless role of a sympathetic New York detective. Gary Sinise is the psychiatrist whom Telly inexplicably trusts throughout the film, even though he’s the guy who’s been trying hard to convince her the last nine years never actually happened.
The Forgotten deserves to be.