This review is also up at Channel 24
What it's about
A convict with ten months left on his sentence makes a deal with the devil to get out of prison early to spend with his terminally ill son. The cost: making use of his brilliant forgery skills to create a fake copy of a Monet with which his former boss can replace the real one he intends to steal.
What we thought
Aside for doing weird, weird things on stage at a couple of awards shows and being the subject of not a small amount of controversy, we haven't seen much of John Travolta these past few years. Frankly though, even if The Forger is nowhere near as bad as most critics suggest, I can't really say that it was a particular pleasure seeing Travolta again. It's a pity, he was rather good for a little while there, back before he torched his own career with the whole Battlefield Earth debacle, but he has since become a rather unsettling screen presence that is far better suited to playing the monster in a horror movie than an apparently sympathetic lead in a crime drama.
It's a problem that the film has a hard time shaking off in its opening act but things definitely get better as the film progresses. Whether it's simply a case of getting used to Travolta's strangeness or if its the deflection of attention away from him and more onto his character's son (Tye Sheridan) and father (Christopher Plumber, stealing the show), I can't say for sure, but this is definitely a film that gets increasingly enjoyable as it goes on.
Beyond Travolta himself, the tone of the film is weird as hell. It starts off as a very downbeat, even bleak slow-burn drama that transforms itself into a quite sentimental tearjerker about a father and his dying son, before finally ending up as a quite light-footed heist flick. It's completely unsuccessful in its opening sections but its latter two identities are significantly more involving, if not more than a little flawed. It's the sort of film that, by the end, actually seems better than it is but, lets not kid, its overall a bit of a mess.
Aside for the clashing tones, questionably-cast lead actor and very slow beginning, the film has a few other nagging flaws that pop up along the way. Most distractingly, Tye Sheridan is perfectly good as the dying teen but, there's no getting past it, this is yet another Hollywood portrayal of an illness where a kid with stage 4 brain cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, still has enough energy to jump across rooftops and generally seems to be in tip-top physical health. Sure, he has a seizure along the way but even then it looks like he's done nothing more than faint. If you thought the portrayal of cancer in The Fault of Our Stars shies away from the true ugliness of the disease, you should really see this!
Still, for all that's wrong with the film, there's very little that's horrible about it and it's not entirely unaffective as a father-son drama, even if it is a wee bit schmaltzy, and it is actually pretty enjoyable when it finally gets round to being the heist movie that the trailer promised – you know, two-thirds of the way through.
It's weird, even as I write this, I'm starting to understand why so many critics gave the film such a low score. I was intent on giving the film a respectable three-stars and yet I find it all but absolutely impossible to list anything good about the film without attaching to it any number of qualifiers that bring things right back to the bad. It's not a shockingly bad film by any means and it should satisfy those with very low expectations or those who are particularly big fans of messy crime dramas. It just never quite manages to actually be good, is the problem. Fittingly enough, it's like a forgery of a good move, rather than the real deal. How appropriate.