TIFF 2014: Travolta is Back in the Game in Philip Martin's 'The Forger'
by Alex Billington
September 10, 2014
In the last decade, John Travolta hasn't really done much work that stands out. He's either a menacing villain who doesn't amount to much, a wacky goofball, or some other weird character that just doesn't seem to work. Finally, after all this time, he's in a role where he can really prove himself again and it's a fine film, with an excellent script and solid performances all-around. From a screenplay by Richard D'Ovidio, the film is titled The Forger, directed by Philip Martin (Emmy-winning TV director making his feature debut). It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where I randomly caught a screening, despite not knowing anything about it or the director going in. I was thoroughly entertained and mostly impressed by the film's dialogue.
In the film, Travolta plays an art forger still in prison after being caught on the last job, close to finishing his time but anxious to get out. The reason he wants out? To see his teenaged son, and spend time with him (before he can't). Tye Sheridan (from Tree of Life, Mud, Joe) plays Will, being raised by his grandfather, played by Christopher Plummer, while resenting his father because he has been in prison for so long. After cutting a deal to get out, Travolta heads for home to try and rekindle his relationship with Will, only to find that it's not as easy as knocking on the front door. Through honest discussion, a bit of mischief, and some ole fashion father-son bonding, they both learn how much it means to spend time with those you love.
Don't let that plot synopsis put you off, as much as this sounds like any typical, boring drama, there's some aspects to it that make it quite unique. First, Travolta's performance (complete with that tiny goatee) as Ray Cutter is his best performance since maybe, Ladder 49, nearly 10 years ago. He's never overdoing it, never over-acting or pushing things too far, he's just emotionally there - calm and cool, aware of his surroundings, focused on the one thing that matters the most to him – his son. Those familiar with Tye Sheridan already know how incredibly talented he is, and he lives up to that reputation. Sheridan, along with Plummer as "Gramps", bring so much gravitas and humility to these roles when they need it the most. Together this trio is engaging to watch, elevating the film from being potentially average to compelling thanks to their talent.
Of course, the film wouldn't work if the script wasn't outstanding as well, and I found myself considerably baffled by how real every last moment felt, every discussion and argument. From simple quips to the way they use swear words ("fuck" is used often because it's such a common word in reality yet often not used in film thanks to the MPAA) to the decisions they make about life, everything was very honest and thought out. There are no lose ends, or questions about why this person said that, or why they're acting this way. It may sound bad to say that every time I expected (or perhaps: hoped for) a response or a reaction, that was the response they gave. However, that's actually a compliment with this film because every response was exactly what it should be, and not some exaggerated or fabricated cinematic line that we'd never hear in real life.
For a film that I knew nothing about going in, The Forger turned out to be a great discovery at TIFF 2014. It doesn't have excessive action, just a few scenes that pick up the pace and the stakes, with a focus on the characters and core of the story. It's about what it means to spend time with your family, with the people you love, and how to do that on your own terms. Even if it means getting them involved in things they shouldn't be involved in, or fulfilling their odd requests, it's important to recognize the value of simply being there. And that's where the film succeeds - in capturing the reality of being there with honesty and integrity. The Forger is thoughtful, engaging film that will remind you how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life again.
Alex's TIFF 2014 Rating: 8 out of 10
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