With the exception of the Morbid Curiosity Files, where I know full well what I’m getting into, I always hope that the films I’m watching will turn out to be good films. Actually, I hope that they’re great films, even though those are necessarily rarer. And at the least, I hope that they’re acceptable films. So it’s always disappointing when a film turns out to be rather poor. But most disappointing of all is when I watch a film that clearly had some potential, but it just didn’t manifest for one reason or another.
The Forger is one such film. Made this year, it was directed by Lawrence Roeck and apparently released direct-to-video. It has quite a lot going for it; it has a workable premise and it has a fairly high quality cast, including some big names. Unfortunately, it squanders it by spreading itself too thin and going for cheap melodrama.
The Forger stars Josh Hutcheson as Joshua Mason, a 15-year-old boy living in Carmel, California. He never knew his father, and his mother ran off a few weeks back. He’s alone, and gets thrown out of the motel room where he’s staying for being unable to pay. Out on the streets, he eventually breaks into the home of an art dealer, and is caught there when he falls asleep. This brings him to the attention of caseworker Vanessa Reese, played by Dina Eastwood, whose stepson Scott also has a small role in the film. Of course, this is technically the second time he came to Reese’s attention; as the hotel manager called her after discovering the boy had painted on his walls.
I’d question the manager suddenly caring so much about the kid he just threw out, but honestly a picture like that would have me calling somebody too. Possibly an exorcist.
Yes, the kid who broke into the home of an art dealer is himself an artist. And things could go all sappy there, but the movie actually teases us with a more interesting premise. The dealer, played by Alfred Molina, is a forger. And he recognizes Josh’s talent and recruits him to the business, even arranging with Ms. Reese to be the kid’s guardian. Assisting in the fake art trade is Billy Boyd, who acts as the accountant and general manservant to Molina’s character. This dark influence on Josh’s artistic talent is counterpointed by Lauren Bacall as Ann-Marie, a renowned local artist who also recognizes his gift as well as his need to belong.
And that’s where things start to get all sappy. I actually had to check IMDb when I was done watching, just to be sure this wasn’t originally made for Hallmark or Lifetime. This film is heavy on the schmaltz, playing up dramatic moments for more emotional weight than they’re really worth, complete with swelling musical scores at the appropriate times. There are hints of a tighter, more intrigue-based plot around the art forgery, but mostly this film just wants to be the heartwarming story of an old lady and a street urchin. There are also a few tugs at the heartstrings with Ms. Reese trying to track down Joshua’s mother, a plot line that ultimately added nothing to the film, and with Joshua attempting to start a relationship with a local high school girl (Hayden Panetierre). It’s very easy to get the sense that there was more than one screenplay stitched together here (though this is unlikely, as only Carlos De Los Rios is credited); so much of it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and the parts that do matter don’t mesh as well as they might. It even completely violates the old rule of Chekhov’s gun (“if there’s a gun on the mantle in act one, it must be fired by act three”) in the most literal manner possible.
This scene has no bearing on anything.
I’m not a big fan of sappy dramas in the first place, but I could forgive the film for that if it was good at that. But it isn’t. Part of it is the way the plot is spread too thin. Part of it’s the way it almost seemed to be going in a different direction when Joshua first discovers the art forger’s work. But part of it is also the way the plot is so contrived. There are several scenes that are only possible because nobody in Carmel seems to have any notion of security at all. It’s justified when the kid breaks into a couple places; he’s a bit of a petty thief, that’s acceptable in the plot. But nobody else seems to be slowed down by doors that ought to be locked when they venture into unoccupied residences either. This allows both Reese and Ann-Marie to discover things at various points when in reality they would probably remain in the dark. Further, another revelation requires a character to have held onto something for several decades that, in all probability, they would have thrown away immediately. Why didn’t they? Because then there wouldn’t be a big melodramatic reveal to cause an emotional twist in the story. It feels cheap and hackish.
And it’s so disappointing, because the actors are all pretty good. Hutcheson and Panetierre might be the weakest links, and they’re both fairly good in their roles; my only problems with the characters — the lack of chemistry and any reason why either of them would be interested in each other — stem more from the writing than their acting. And Molina and Bacall, both veteran and respected actors, give performances that far outshine the material they’re given to work with. They made their characters appear potentially interesting, but the writing didn’t give them enough room to explore the more interesting aspects of their character. Molina in particular seems ill-used here; we don’t really get to see enough of Everly showing his darker nature.
The Forger should have been about a kid being brought into the world of art forgery, and having to struggle against a manipulative master in order to break out of it and bring him down. And in the very loosest sense, it is. But instead of being the core of the movie, it’s a thin veneer over an adoption story mixed with a placid teen romance. It loses a lot in the transition.