Cheap plot gimmicks spoil Moore’s good performance

A note to the reader: this review contains spoilers and should not be read by those interested in being surprised by the plot of “The Forgotten.” Just be advised that said surprises are worth neither your time nor your money.

“The Forgotten” plays like the worst episode of “The X-Files.” That is a shame because Julianne Moore turns in a very good performance that ultimately goes to waste in a movie that is more interested in messing with the audience than it is in exploring the characters.

Moore stars as Telly Paretta, a woman whose son died in a plane crash over a year ago. She has not taken the loss well and so she goes to Dr. Jack Munce (Gary Sinise) for psychological help. Munce tells her that she is having problems coping because she has a “death grip on the past,” whatever the hell that means. This is very disconcerting for Telly’s husband Jim (Anthony Edwards), who doesn’t seem to understand her anguish.

Then comes the first in a series of twists. Images of Telly’s son begin to disappear from the family portraits, her car ends up where she didn’t park it and a coffee cup ends up where she didn’t place it. When she begins to question what’s going on, both her husband and psychologist tell her that she has been in a state of delusion for a decade and that she never had a son.

Now, this is an interesting premise. It could have allowed director Joseph Ruben and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego to show us what Telly’s imagined or unimagined son meant to her and how she would go about piecing her life back together; sort of a mix between the dramatic “A Beautiful Mind” and the trippy “Mulholland Drive.” But “The Forgotten” isn’t interested in those things and would rather play silly games with the audience – which would have been fine if the screenplay had not relied on so many cheap plot gimmicks.

Telly refuses to believe her son was never real and soon she’s tracked down a man, Ash Correll (Dominic West) whose daughter died in the same crash as Telly’s son. But Ash doesn’t remember ever having a daughter. Soon, however, his memory is conveniently jostled and there are National Security Agency (NSA) goons hunting the two down.

The NSA is interested in them because somehow their memory loss is tied to a giant conspiracy involving the highest levels of government and, get this, aliens. That’s right, aliens.

The plot is immensely stupid in the way it reveals its plot twists and then doubles back on itself to show how what the audience thought it saw was not real. The ending contains such an absurd deus ex machina that it negates just about every plot twist in the movie, not that they were particularly brilliant.

Moore should be pitied. She does some great work in “The Forgotten” and really captures the intense emotions one would expect from someone whose entire life has been pulled away from her. It’s a shame, though, that the director and screenwriter let her down, surrounding her very good performance with idiotic plot machinery and hollow surprises.