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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NOT FORGOTTEN -- DVD review by porfle

An interesting thriller that goes in directions I wasn't expecting, NOT FORGOTTEN (2009) starts out like a bland "father searches for kidnapped daughter" TV-movie and gradually gets much darker, weirder, and more intense.

Simon Baker, who played the "Movie Premiere Pot Bust" guy in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, stars as Jack Bishop, a mild-mannered dad who coaches his 11-year-old daughter Toby's (Chloe Moretz) soccer team.

After the death of Toby's mother, he marries Amaya (Paz Vega) and they seem to have a normal, relatively happy life until the day Toby disappears during soccer practice.

A sex offender is the first suspect, but the trail soon leads into stranger territory that involves a Mexican religious cult called Santa Muerte, a prostitution ring involving young girls, and some unsavory characters who appear to recognize Jack and keep calling him "Roberto." While the police and FBI seem to be going in circles, Jack heads south of the border himself and is drawn into a nightmare of violence and deception.

I thought this might turn into a variation on Paul Schader's HARDCORE, in which crusading dad George C. Scott followed his missing daughter into the dehumanizing depths of the L.A. porn scene. But while he was a straight arrow type with clearly-defined motives, there's more to Jack Bishop than we originally suspect.

It's interesting to watch how easily he casts off his civilized fascade and blends into the world of the people he's hunting as though he belonged there. Simon Baker, whose work I'm beginning to like more and more, is very convincing in the role.

Director Dror Soref, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Tomás Romero, starts things out slow and keeps a deliberate pace all the way to the end. Instead of getting faster and flashier, the story intensifies by growing stranger and more unpredictable, unveiling its revelations one at at time. Just when you think you've got things pretty well figured out, another unexpected twist comes along.

Although NOT FORGOTTEN isn't a horror film, the Santa Muerte stuff is pretty creepy. Julia Vera is especially unnerving as Doña, a blank-eyed, bed-ridden psychic to whom Amaya takes a skeptical Jack for help. The pervasive influence of the cult over Jack's hometown creates an uneasy atmosphere, as does our gradual realization that hardly anything or anyone are what they seem.

Not being one of those hyper-perceptive viewers who see every twist coming, I was continually taken aback by the story's surprises, one of which is just how downbeat and violent it eventually becomes. The scene in which Jack confronts a suspected kidnapper in a fleabag motel bathroom, wielding a broken bottle and a really bad attitude, is riveting. While the final resolution and open ending had me mentally replaying everything that went before and trying to figure out if it all really made sense (still not sure), it was pretty effective overall.

The Anchor Bay DVD is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround 5.1. English subtitles for the hearing-impaired are available. Extras include a commentary track with director Soref and producer Romero, a trailer, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette.

NOT FORGOTTEN largely eschews the usual cinematic bells and whistles and takes a more subtle approach, leading us slowly downward into a dark place like a demented tour guide and showing us all the bad things around every corner. Technically well-done, with a good cast, it's an exciting and involving thriller that should keep you in suspense till the end.

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