It seems that everything Simon Baker is involved in is at least interesting, if not always entirely successful. Even when he's in a less than stellar film, his performance is fun to watch. And when he's in an inventive, visually striking film like Not Forgotten, the whole experience becomes a joy.
Jack Bishop (Simon Baker) seems to have the perfect life. He is married to a beautiful woman, Amaya (Paz Vega). He has a precocious young daughter, Toby (Chloe Moretz). He works at the bank in the sleepy border town of Del Rio , TX, loves his job, is respected by the townsfolk and even coaches Toby's soccer team. Everything is wonderful, until Toby goes missing. Jack quickly begins to deteriorate under the stress of looking for his daughter. There is no ransom note. Was she kidnapped? Did she run away? Unsure at first, it soon becomes clear that the young girl was forcibly taken.
Amaya is not Toby's biological mother, but she shows love and concern for her missing stepdaughter. Her cousin Casper (Michael DeLorenzo) is the somewhat inexperienced interim sheriff. The local police do what they can to track down the missing girl, but finally call in the FBI. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Jack and Amaya drive over the border into Mexico and visit an old fortune teller, a follower of Santa Muerte, who has a vision, seemingly unrelated to the kidnapping, when she grasps Jack's hand. Santa Muerte, which figures importantly in the film, is a mystical hodgepodge of Catholic iconography and folk traditions, which glorifies revenge and death.
As the investigation goes on, more and more inconsistencies turn up about Jack's past. His first wife, Toby's mother, supposedly died of cancer in Oklahoma, but no record of her death can be found. In fact, prior to ten years ago, no record of a Jack Bishop can be found, either. It seems that Jack has been lying to his family and friends about his past.
As he picks up more clues to the whereabouts of his daughter, Jack begins to slip back into Mexico at night, and back into the underworld that he had escaped, in a desperate attempt to locate her. Things devolve from there, with Jack confronting skeptical police and FBI agents, kidnappers, prostitutes, and the ever present followers of Santa Muerte.
The plot is ingenious and engaging, and the twist at the end is laid out effortlessly, causing the viewer to think back at all the small details that now can be seen as clues. The natural tension of the twin situations, the kidnapping of Toby and the slow unveiling to all of Jack's secret past life, is enhanced by the patina of disturbing imagery that the filmmakers overlay on the apparent normalcy of the town of Del Rio. Everywhere in the otherwise idyllic town there are the halt and the lame, those with facial deformities, blindness, amputations. The slow pans over the faces of these afflicted leaves the viewer with the uneasy feeling that all is not as it seems.
Baker and Vega both do very well as the superficially perfect married couple. There is a lot of intensity, leavened with nuance and subtlety, from both of them. The supporting cast is good, too, with Claire Forlani taking on a small roll near the end and Chloe Moretz holding up her end of things as the kidnapped girl. The action is all simultaneously dark and mysterious, and utterly believable. The decision to shoot mostly on location, particularly in the scenes set in Mexico, pays off great dividends in realism. Not Forgotten is certainly not the feel good hit of the year, but it is a finely crafted and entertaining thriller. Recommended.
Not Forgotten - Behind the Scenes:
Not Forgotten Trailer:
Commentary with Dror Soref and Tomas Romero: