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The opening scene to Denise Di Novi’s Unforgettable plays all its cards, giving away the film’s ending, and leaving so little to the imagination. Seconds later we meet the film’s primary villain Tessa (Katherine Heigl) and instantly we even know whodunnit. For a film that should thrive in its elusive nature, and use suspense as its greatest tool and means of storytelling, instead it gives too much away, leaving nowhere to truly go. In other words you could effectively switch off after five minutes and leaving feeling fulfilled – perhaps even more so than if you actually stick with it.

Rosario Dawson plays Julia Banks, and she’s introduced to the viewer when in custody, questioned over the death of her former partner, the abusive Michael – as she’s accused of reconnecting following the end of his restraining order, only to then kill him in her very own abode. But then we go back six months, and Julia has since got engaged to a new man in David (Geoff Stuits) – and it’s here we meet Tessa, the jealous ex-wife struggling to come to terms with the fact her daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) is to be raised by a new step-mother. The vindictive, manipulative presence interferes persistently, and while Julia simply wants to move on, and succeed as a mother, Tessa is doing everything in her power to ensure this not be the case – and is behind the nefarious plan to bring Michael back into the picture.

Emphatically overstated, and gloriously absurd, we gather this to be the tone when introduced to Tessa. She’s looking into the mirror with an evil glint in her eye, brushing her hair like a sadistic barbie doll, with an appearance that isn’t too far removed from Lucius Malfoy. The problem is, rather than play up to and thrive in this capacity, Di Novi tries to have her cake and eat it, implementing poignant human themes to correspond with the surrealistic edge, and it’s a balance that while strived for, is certainly not achieved. Thankfully Dawson’s talent as an actress saves the film on occasion, as such a likeable presence that needs to draw on her endearing qualities to ensure the viewer remains wholly on her side throughout. It’s good casting, as is picking Heigl to play Tessa – who not only brings such a dark undercurrent to the part, but a vital sense of vulnerability, which is essential to having the character work.

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But the two lead performances are devalued by the inclination to present this film like a cheap, Channel 5 movie (not, not those ones), with a bright aesthetic, appearing more like an elongated episode of CSI. Except programmes of that ilk grab you with their mystery, the fact the audience is kept on their toes – and yet this film seems determined to avoid such an approach. It’s here the film falls short, which is risky business, for when you name a film Unforgettable, you really do need to ensure it’s a worthwhile endeavour, because the puns otherwise are just far too easy to use. Don’t worry, we’re not stooping to that level… but boy is it tempting.

Unforgettable is well, Unforgettable. (Sorry I couldn’t resist – Ed.)

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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