- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

The “Twilight Zone” effect — when a tale’s final moments reveal a nifty gotcha — defined Rod Serling’s career and, more recently, haunts anything M. Night Shyamalan (1999’s “The Sixth Sense”) touches.

Mr. Shyamalan’s endings are doozies, even that of the tepidly received “The Village,” but his tales might as well end right after the climactic surprise.

Director Joseph Ruben’s new thriller “The Forgotten” follows a different path. It keeps its “gotcha” secret tight to its vest till nearly the end, revealing glimpses without giving it away.

It’s what makes it a more compelling experience than watching “The Village,” even if the latter boasts a higher level of craft.

We first meet Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) slumped on a swing in her tranquil Brooklyn neighborhood. She lost her son, Sam, to a plane crash 14 months ago, and she hasn’t begun piecing her life back together. Her understanding husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards, ideal casting), is patient to a fault, but his stoicism crumbles when Telly accuses him of hiding photographs of Sam that once adorned their home.

Her hysteria grows when other signs of Sam dry up. Soon, Jim informs her, with the help of her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise), that Sam never existed in the first place. Telly miscarried years ago and created Sam out of that pain.

Or so they say.

Telly thinks she may be going mad until she runs into Ash (Dominic West of HBO’s “The Wire”), a neighbor who once had a daughter Sam’s age whom he can no longer remember. Telly gives him just enough reason to think that he did have a child that he rallies to her cause.

It’s not just Telly’s husband and doctor who are pursuing Telly, now on the run and utterly confused. National Security Agents are closing in on Telly and Ash for reasons the two can’t possibly imagine.

“The Forgotten’s” heroes think like adults, not automatons. They put two and two together more than once and ask some, if not all, of the right questions. But it’s only a matter of time before the film’s true nature comes peeking through. The less we tell of it, the better.

Here, screenwriter Gerald DiPego (“Angel Eyes,” “Message in a Bottle”) does his best tap dancing to keep viewers guessing. That his surprise is imperfect doesn’t diminish its conveyor belt of thrills, from a startling car accident to a “wow” moment in which a few characters are swept right off their feet.

Mr. West makes an immediate impact as the alcoholic Ash, and few actresses can mourn quite like Miss Moore. She may stumble through clumsy comedies like “Laws of Attraction,” but she’s in her element here, and the story needs all of her poise and presence.

“The Forgotten” raises more questions than it answers, all the while leaving a trail of inconsistencies in its wake.

The holes, however, are never deep enough to prevent “The Forgotten” from making its mark.

***

WHAT: “The Forgotten”

RATING: PG-13 (Harsh language, disturbing imagery and violent action sequences)

CREDITS: Directed by Joseph Ruben. Screenplay by Gerald DiPego. Produced by Joe Roth, Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sony.

com/theforgotten

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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