If there’s an actor out there in desperate need of a career rebirth…well, a second career rebirth… it’s John Travolta. He could probably do for a Liam Neeson-style turn towards action, but he already tried that (with Taken’s Luc Besson no less) in From Paris with Love and other crappy genre flicks. The problem isn’t that his movies largely go unseen, although that is a big issue, it’s that the films themselves have uniformly been terrible and his roles embarrassing. Travolta’s latest film, crime drama The Forger, is probably the best he’s done in some time but still ranks as mediocre at best.
Looking vaguely like a made-for-TV movie, probably because that’s what director Philip Martin is known for, The Forger presents big dramatic issues solved in the most simplistic manner possible. Travolta plays Ray Cutter, a prison inmate known serving time for a career as a renowned art forger. With only weeks left in his sentence, Ray makes the rash decision to call up a powerful associate who pulls some strings to get him released early. It comes with a price that Ray must steal a classic piece of Claude Monet art for his private collection. Ray has no choice but agree, even though he’s reluctant to get back into the game.
It isn’t long before we find out why Ray needed to get out of jail when he did. His son William (Tye Sheridan) has a brain tumor and only has months left to live. He’s been staying with Ray’s equally tough-as-nails father (Christopher Plummer), who isn’t so much for that whole parenting thing. William doesn’t care much for his jailbird daddy, but it isn’t long before they’re best buds. It also isn’t long before William requests to be part of dad’s heist because positive father/son time includes committing major felonies.
That’s how simplistic screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio’s screenplay works things out, though. The easiest way to show how the guys are bonding is to have them pull a crime together. Naturally. And since William is dying there’s no way Ray could say no. Well, he actually does at first but it doesn’t take much arm-twisting to change his mind. Any past grievances between the Cutter clan don’t amount to much but a few moments of yelling, arguing, followed by weak acquiescence. Even when William’s drug-addicted mother (Jennifer Ehle) enters the picture there’s no real tension there. This film wasn’t built to withstand anything too serious. There’s a whole subplot about a cop (Abigail Spencer) on William’s trail and nothing really comes of it because that would be too complicated.
Martin’s direction doesn’t have much of a personality, but he at least gets a couple of solid performances out of Sheridan and Plummer, the latter having enough energy to match the entire cast. Travolta seems ill-suited to such an understated role, and Ehle deserves better than the screenplay gives her to work with. Without an ounce of emotional investment in its characters, The Forger proves to be a completely counterfeit crime thriller.