2004, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, Linus Roache, Anthony Edwards.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 24, 2004
Julianne Moore has the ability to play an excellent "woman in distress," which may be one of the reasons she came off so dismally as Agent Clarice Starling in that misguided Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal. When that quality in her is put to good use as Todd Haynes discovered in Safe and Far From Heaven, Moore is able to transcend mere jitteriness and fear to create a brilliantly palpable sense of existential dread and distinctly modern anxieties. But in the hands of rote thriller director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy, The Good Son, Money Train), Moore is just another of the countless movie heroines who is determined to get back her missing child. At the beginning of the movie we see her morose character, Telly, still grieving from the disappearance 14 months earlier of her young son, who is believed to have died with five other children in a plane crash while on his way to summer camp. (Note to filmmakers: Where are these Brooklyn parents sending their kids to camp that a plane can disappear without a trace of wreckage or bodies?) Telly is under the care of a therapist (Sinise), whose behavioral treatments encourage a process of letting go, and her understanding husband is played by the ever-sensitive Edwards. Yet her gut continues to tell her that something is not right, but when she runs into another parent of a dead child (West) who denies being said parent, she (and the audience) begins to have serious doubts about her sanity. From the way in which the movie is filmed, however, we know she isn’t crazy. There is an abundance of overhead tracking shots that begin during the movie’s opening seconds, which clearly imply that Telly is being observed by some unseen presence. Sure enough, in a pseudo-scientific plot ripped straight from the building blocks of The X Files, Telly breaks through the secrecy and cover-ups and ultimately rights the wrongs. A mother’s native instincts win the day, the bad guys are some perversely malicious "They," some strange special effects shots are used in place of any explanation, and to quote my favorite line from the movie: "The goddamn truth won’t fit in your brain." How’s that for cheap gimmicks for getting out of having to make a movie make sense?