One of the wonderful things about attending film festivals is discovering new films you might not have ever gotten the opportunity to see otherwise. Discovering a new film from a first-time director, with lesser-known actors and one somewhat familiar face, is even better. And when that film is pretty damn good? Well, that’s why you get in to a racket like film criticism in the first place.
“Forgotten Man” was screened as part of the 2017 Cinequest Film Festival. At the time of this review, the film does not have an American distribution deal.
In East London, Carl (Obi Abili) is an young actor who is part of a theatre company for the homeless and recently homeless, who occasionally steals bike parts to survive. One night, after a rehearsal, Carl and his friend Tanmay (Tyler Dawson) go out to get a bite to eat when they meet Meredith (Eleanor McLoughlin), a mysterious young lady who is lost in this part of London. After some drinking and dancing with locals at a pub, Carl and Meredith take off for a semi-romantic moment on a local roof top. The next morning, Carl wakes up on Meredith’s couch (or, more specifically, the couch of Meredith’s grandfather’s nearby flat), and they decide to continue to hang out together. Their sweet new romance has Carl risking a parole violation to pursue another life, but when Meredith invites Carl to see the very play he is the lead actor in, and the theatre erupts in violent conflict due to his absence, Carl find himself trapped between his desires for a better life and his obligation to his friends and the theatre.
What makes “Forgotten Man” an even more exciting discovery for this writer is that I knew absolutely nothing about the film entering the theatre. Usually, when attending a film festival, a film critic such as myself would obsess over the festival schedule, trying to figure out how many screenings of movies they can swing each day, often looking for the titles that they feel will get the greatest readership possible. I wanted to try something different, and see what it would be like to watch a movie without any pre-knowledge about anything about the movie. The cinematic equivalent of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. I could have seen something called “American Dream,” or “Years of Fierro,” or “Monochrome” or “Neighborhood Food Drive” or “The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger.” Some interesting titles, and to be honest, there was no crazy method of how I came to decide to see “Forgotten Man” over any of the others. And this is no knock against any of the others, but I am really damn glad I did choose “Forgotten Man.”
There is so much talent on display here. Writer/director Arran Shearing, graduating from short films and music videos, is clearly a director to watch. His grasp of storytelling is strong, with nary a moment or character wasted. Even a couple of secondary characters who might seem superfluous are necessary because their vacuousness serves to highlight the seeming divide between Carl and Meredith. The black and white cinematography by Ryan Petey always finds the right balance of light and darkness regardless of location or time of day, often the downfall of many a lower-budgeted indie film from a bunch of newcomers. As Meredith, McLoughlin (in her very first appearance) brings a beauty and vitality to her role. Dawson has an easy-going vibe reminiscent of Will Forte. And even the surprise appearance of 80s icon Jerry Hall (she of Burton’s “Batman” and long-time partner of Mick Jagger fame) as Meredith’s aunt is a welcome addition. But the film really belongs to Abili, who commands the screen in his every scene, and is easily the best new British acting discovery since John Boyega burst forth in “Attack the Block.”
“Forgotten Man” is one of those films that makes critics wish they were in the position to distribute films, so they could pick it up and give it the attention it deserves, wondering why someone else hasn’t seen what it is and what it can be already. It won’t make a distributor millions right out of the gate, but it’s one that you pick it up because those who do give it a chance the first time around will enjoy it, and will be watched by those who seek it out in the future as the careers of the major creative talents involved in it continue to grow. This is the type of film that a smaller company like The Orchard or Tim League’s new distribution house Neon would pick up to help build up a reputation as the next IFC or A24-type purveyor of quality. It’s that good, and those who discover this movie first are going to be like those people who were able to discover Barry Jenkins’ “Medicine for Melancholy” back in 2008 or Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” in 2010. You get bragging rights for finding this person before everyone else. And bragging rights are a big thing for film geeks.
You know that.
I know that.
Flex your movie geek bragging rights.
Discover “Forgotten Man” before everyone else does.