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MOVIE REVIEW

A compelling disappearing act

What can possibly be worse than losing a child? According to "The Forgotten," it's being told that the child never existed, in direct contradiction to the framed photos on the mantelpiece and the news coverage of the accident. But wait -- the kid's no longer in the photos, and the obit's gone from the newspaper. And your spouse insists you're delusional. Can memories so strong be manufactured out of whole cloth and maternal need? What the hell's going on here, anyway?

I'm certainly not going to tell you, and you wouldn't believe me if I did. Suffice to say that "The Forgotten" turns out to be a grade-A B-movie that grounds its thrills in particulars of time, place, and character, so that when the time comes to make the leap into the wholly preposterous, we do so willingly. This is a movie that earns our trust -- and then happily abuses it.

As Telly Paretta, a Brooklyn book editor and full-time grieving mother, Moore connects with a role for the first time since 2002's "Far From Heaven." Fourteen months after the death of 9-year-old Sam (Christopher Kovaleski) in a plane crash, Telly has come to define herself through mourning, but the actress keeps giving us glimpses of the smart, prissy yuppie this woman once was. Then Sam starts disappearing from everyone's memory but hers: Husband Jim (Anthony Edwards), psychiatrist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), former baby sitter Eliot (Jessica Hecht). Worse, Ash Corell (Dominic West), a neighbor who lost his daughter in the same crash, has no knowledge of Telly or his own child or even why he's been in a booze-fueled depression for more than a year. Then Telly peels back Ash's wallpaper and discovers Lauren's drawings . . .

That's it, I'm not saying any more, because it would sound incredibly silly and you wouldn't see the movie. Well, all right, Alfre Woodard plays the kind of tough New York cop who finds out more than is good for her. The shrink knows more than he's letting on, but you figured that out the moment you saw shifty-eyed Sinise. And, as a colleague pointed out, there's some physical business in the last act that may put you in mind of the bridge scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." This may not be accidental; the airline Sam travels on is named Quest Air, after all.

"The Forgotten" is incredibly silly, of course, but not during the watching of it. Maybe you'll kick yourself upon leaving the theater, but while the lights are down you're engaged and increasingly, pleasurably thunderstruck. For that, thank director Joseph Ruben, a Hollywood journeyman who occasionally comes through with an expertly made, secretly witty piece of genre trash: "The Stepfather" in 1987, the underrated "Good Son" in 1993.

"The Forgotten" is similarly lean and loose, and never mind that it won't get respect from critics and audiences who value art above craft. Ruben takes care to root his story in believable daily life -- in the physical details of Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood, with its two bridges tying the borough to Manhattan the way a child is connected to his parents. Where the characters in most Hollywood suspense films are generically written and played, Telly and Ash feel like individuals: She's a snob, he's a former pro hockey player with a short fuse, and after two days on the run, they're bickering like an old married couple.

Eventually, they're led cautiously up to a point where they're scared out of their wits yet almost chuckling with disbelief over what they're required to accept. And so are we. And so is Joe Ruben. And that's what makes the difference.

I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

The Forgotten
***1/2

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