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The Forgotten disappoints

By Arthur J Pais
September 24, 2004 12:08 IST
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The supernatural thriller The Forgotten is an easily forgettable drama that might lead the US box-office this week for want of strong competition.

But discriminating moviegoers, at least in New York and Los Angeles, might want to check out the Spanish-language import The Motorcycle Diaries as well as the suspenseful political satire, Silver City. And if you love zombie movies, you could visit Shaun of the Dead, a wild British comedy that is testing American audiences in a limited release.  

The true story of the adventures and misadventures of two men in their twenties on the road across much of South America Walter Salles' Motorcycle Diaries takes a sudden but understandable turn in its last quarter as it explores a populist theme. Both men are radicalised by their encounters on the road but one of the men, Ernesto Guevara, begins a revolutionary journey that would turn him in to Che, the icon of the 1960s leftwing movement.

For those who love political satires, John Sayles' overlong but thought-provoking Silver City is a must. The film, which is also a detective drama, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. An openly anti-Bush vehicle with its lead character a bumbling politician controlled by cunning operators, the leftist and fiercely independent filmmaker's movie will add scores of screens in coming weeks if the grosses in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are encouraging.

The film, which features a number of Hollywood's more brilliant character actors including Richard Dreyfuss and Chris Cooper, has a string of deeply etched performances.

The new movie revolves around the election campaign of  'Dickie' Pilager (Chris Cooper), the ill informed, ex-alcoholic, and linguistically challenged son of the state's venerable senator (Michael Murphy) running his first campaign for public office.
While filming an environmental television spot, Dickie's fishing line snags the corpse of a migrant laborer. Immediately, the tough, manipulative and amoral campaign manager Chuck Raven (Dreyfuss) steps in. Chuck is  convinced the incident is a dirty political trick. The detective agency he hires to investigate the incident, chooses Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston), an idealist journalist who was sacrificed by his newspaper and who is forced to earn his living as a private detective.  

Though often hilarious and thought-provoking, the film becomes  unmanageable in the final reckoning as it tackles too many
subjects: corrupt lobbyists, media conglomerates, environmental plunderers, and the plight of undocumented migrant workers.

The vote from the critics is mixed.

'If it fails in its whole, the movie certainly shines in its parts,' wrote the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's William Arnold, 'with a string of dead-on character performances to enjoy.'

In The New York Times, A O  Scott felt 'the problem is, once again, that Mr Sayles is less interested in telling a story than in teaching a lesson.'

The influential trade publication Hollywood Reporter loved the film. 'What makes Sayles' storytelling so compelling is his uncanny ability to capture the different speech cadences of each character,' wrote Kirk Honeycutt.

Director Joseph Ruben, who specialises in suspense thrillers, has had a few successes including Sleeping with the Enemy starring Julia Roberts. Though The Forgotten has a formidable team of actors, he has not built a compellingly suspenseful
drama filled with a pulse-tightening climax.

When a single mother, Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore), loses her 8-year-old son, she seeks the help of a psychiatrist (Gay Sinise) to cope with the pain of her grief. She gets no satisfaction from the shrink since she is told that her son is merely a figment of her imagination, with her mind having created eight years of false memories. When she meets a father (Dominic West), who has had another similar experience with his disappearing daughter recently but had refused to believe for some time that she had ever existed, Telly decides to team up with him to get to the bottom of the mysteries.

What saves the film from being a total wreck is the work of many of its artistes, particularly Moore and West who make
their characters and the pain they undergo somewhat realistic.

While The Forgotten may appeal to the not-so-demanding lovers of the suspense genre, some romantically inclined viewers
might want to see First Daughter, though the Katie Holmes starring film might remind them of the recent flop Chasing Liberty with Mandy Moore. Both movies deal with a runaway daughter of an American president.

The reviews mostly are savage.

'Hollywood's current obsession with princesses and presidents' daughters reaches its nadir with First Daughter, a bland, formulaic picture where romance and comedy are noticeably absent,' wrote The Hollywood Reporter. 'A more wooden and uninspired effort from talented people behind and in front of the camera is difficult to imagine. Even its target audience of young females may give this one a pass.'

If you dig quirky and over the top British humour, the Dawn of the Dead spoof Shaun of the Dead may delight you. The low budget comedy, which also takes a dig at other zombie films such as 28 Days Later, was quite a big hit in Britain. In America, it is being released in just about 600 theatres (The Forgotten opens in about 3,000), and if it is wild, silly but often inventive humour catches on, it will add more screens in coming weeks.

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Arthur J Pais