Published Apr 24, 2015BBC director Philip Martin's feature narrative debut, The Forger, is an easy target for criticism. For starters, the basic setup is exceedingly heavy-handed: Raymond Cutter (John Travolta) makes a Faustian bargain with the man that put him in prison to get out early to spend time with his mortally ill son, Will (Tye Sheridan). It's a standard retribution template with a built-in device for milking and manipulating emotions: a dying kid. But what's even more likely to illicit kneejerk derision than the sudsy and rather implausible template is the presence of John Travolta.
It's not that Travolta is bad in The Forger; he's not. It's a pretty consistent, albeit uncomplicated, depiction of a man resigned to his own fate. He spends most of the movie getting kicked while he's down by his disappointed father (Christopher Plummer) and low-level crime lord, Keegan (Anson Mount). The problem is the baggage surrounding Travolta outside of the movie, involving scorned masseuses, awkward award show appearances and the blackmail cult that is the Church of Scientology. It makes the many scenes where Raymond glumly sulks about a slight seem much more amusing than they might be if a less corny actor were in the lead role.
Without this bit of pop culture misfortune, The Forger is actually a passable, if less than accomplished, bit of mainstream entertainment.
Once the setup surpasses its own self-imposed obstacles — chiefly, cheesy scenes of Raymond reacquainting with his family with his tail between his legs — the story manages to progress in an engaging manner. Though the conceit is wildly unlikely, the introduction of Agent Paisley (Abigail Spencer), an undercover officer tailing Cutter to dig up dirt on Keegan, does provide a moral compass and a perspective that ultimately helps add tension and mystery once The Forger shifts more to a heist format. Though we know that part of the condition of Cutter's release was to break his parole and forge a Monet, Paisley has only suspicions to guide her, which helps justify the handful of twists that arise in the third act.
While not compelling enough to give The Italian Job a run for its money, the basic museum robbery climax does entertain and service the basic themes quite well. Obviously, the title of the film denotes its central idea of a failed man that excels only at impersonating the works of others, which is why the exploitation of that inadvertent criminal mindset as a mode to retribution completes the arc quite well. It also helps that the relationship between Raymond and Will has a natural progression that stems from Raymond's decision to help his dying son fulfil some bucket list items, which, conveniently enough, involve the sort of illegalities that are initially presented as shameful.
The morality of it all is a tad thorny, and the overall contrivance harkens the populist adult cinema of the late '90s, but The Forger is ultimately fine for what it is.