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The Forgotten

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
91 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Kohei Oguri. Cast: Akira Sakata, Takamitsu Okubo, Sumiko Sakamoto, Yuko Tanaka (II), Mitsuru Hirata.

A paranoid thriller for the post-X-Files culture, The Forgotten is nonsense, to be sure, but compelling nonsense. Throwing scrutiny to the wind, writer Gerald Di Pego (Phenomenon) and director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy) focus on mood over matter, with sunken shadows in every frame, aerial shots which imply an otherworldly P.O.V., and the kind of nerve-jangling performance money can buy from Julianne Moore. If you accept the premise that a puzzle is more about spending time with the pieces than regarding the finished picture (which, after all, stares mockingly from the box lid all the time), you can enjoy The Forgotten as a matinee trifle.

Those seeking a sensible plot need not apply. Moore plays bereaved New York mother Telly Paretta (why she shares a name with a Sesame Street monster is beyond me); fourteen months after a fatal plane crash, Telly's post-traumatic shock over the loss of her eight-year-old son Sam has yet to fade. Her shrink, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), urges her to "move on," but Telly loses it when her photographs and videotapes of Sam spirit away. Told by her husband (Anthony Edwards) that they never had a child, Telly momentarily doubts her sanity. Clinging to years of memories, she puzzles out who might want to erase all physical and mental records of her child: her husband, her psychiatrist, the NSA agents casing her neighborhood?

What if, she wonders, Sam isn't dead at all, but an abductee taken by some sinister and alien force? Desperately seeking corroboration, Telly laboriously reminds her alcoholic neighbor Ash (Dominic West of TV's The Wire) that he, too, lost a child in the apparent plane crash, though he has been made to forget. The two team up to track the truth though striking New York locations, with the psychologist, the feds, and Alfre Woodard's curious police detective on their heels. Dr. Munce insists that Telly has paramnesia, while she trusts her paranormal bond with her child.

In the end, The Forgotten isn't entirely original, but the strong cast and skillful approach compensate, along with a handful of uniquely well-executed jolts which take good advantage of CGI technology (one stunt abruptly and believably puts Telly in harm's way without risking Moore's own demise). Unsettling but stupid, The Forgotten provides no answers to an endless stream of nagging questions. Though I'll preserve the film's unsatisfactory resolution of delusion versus reality, one might well ask, what makes Telly such a super-mom in the bent reality of The Forgotten? It's enough to give us mere mortals an inferiority complex.

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