The Forger (2014)    1 Stars

“It’s never too late for one last heist.”

The Forger (2014)
The Forger (2014)


Director: Philip Martin

Cast: John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan

Synopsis: A thief works with his father and son to forge a painting by Monet and steal the original. Together, they plan the heist of their lives.

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The wispy smudge of a beard sported by John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction) in Philip Martin’s The Forger looks appropriately like a Size 2 Round Fitch, but looks curiously off-centre at times, as if it felt the effort needed to take root in the deep cleft of his chin was just too much. It’s the kind of absurdity you might find on the chin of Dick Van Dyke in some ’60s comedy set on the Left Bank. But The Forger isn’t a comedy – it’s a deadly earnest drama in which Travolta plays Raymond J. Cutter, an art forger who puts himself in debt to mid-level criminal Keegan (Anson Mount) in return for an early release from prison. Although he only has ten months of his sentence left to serve, Cutter is desperate to get out to spend some quality time with his teenage son, Will (Tye Sheridan), whose inoperable brain tumour is likely to claim his life months before Cutter’s scheduled release date.

Not that you’d know it to look at the boy. In keeping with the film’s similarities to the kind of dramatic storyline that was a staple of ‘40s b-movies, reality isn’t a priority here, so, apart from a couple of trips to a medical clinic, young Will leads the life of a normal teenager. His initially cool reaction to his father’s return quickly warms up when dad follows through on the first two of three wishes he grants his son. Will’s third wish is to accompany Cutter and his irascible old man (Christopher Plummer – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Danny Collins) on the heist they must pull off in order to pay off the debt owed to Keegan, and, for all of maybe three minutes, it provides the movie’s major source of conflict when Cutter initially says no before eventually relenting. The heist involves switching a genuine Claude Manet painting on display in an art gallery for the fake that Cutter has painted for Keegan in a couple of weeks, but is complicated by the fact that Cutter knows he’s being tailed by a cop called Paisley (Abigail Spencer – This is Where I Leave You).

The Forger is, for the most part, an enjoyable enough movie that wrong-foots itself by attempting to combine two sub-genres – the heist movie and relationship drama – both of which are consequently deprived of the depth of detail required to develop a cogent, believable narrative. As Cutter is the driving force behind the plot, it would be nice to know a little more about the man. How did the son of a petty criminal discover an appreciation of, and talent for, fine art? Why has he failed to secure any material gain from his work as a forger? In fact, what led him to adopt this specialised life of crime? And how does a forger of fine art learn to wield a baseball bat with skill enough to take down four thugs from whom he’s just received a beating? Sadly, screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio considers such details unimportant, and therefore leaves us with a frustratingly incomplete picture.

Travolta’s ok in a role that differs greatly from those we’re used to from him. Wearing a perpetual Edward G. Robinson scowl, he, like his estranged junkie ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle – Robocop) certainly looks as if he’s been battered by life. Considering he lost his own son at an age similar to that of his screen son here, the role of Cutter must have been a difficult one for him, and his understated delivery lends considerable dignity to a character who is, at the end of the day, nothing more than an unreformed criminal. In fact, it’s the performances from a strong cast that provides most of the pleasure to be gained from The Forger. Christopher Plummer refuses to be defeated by his eccentric Irish accent as Cutter’s old man, while Sheridan appears unintimidated by his two co-stars’ wealth of experience, and Ehle, in a comparatively small role, makes a positive impact as a damaged woman barely functioning on the very edge of normality.

(Reviewed 25th November 2015)

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