Remember (2015) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for a sequence of violence and language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris, Jurgen Prochnow, Peter DaCunha, Bruno Ganz
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenplay: Benjamin August
Review published April 5, 2016
Christopher Plummer (Danny Collins, Hector and the Search for Happiness) stars as Zev Guttman, a 90-year-old recent widower of German origin who embarks on a road trip to try to find and kill the culprit for many deaths in Auschwitz during World War II. Guttman, whose severe dementia erases every short-term memory by the time he wakes up from sleeping, has escaped from his assisted care facility in New York with some cash and a detailed letter from a fellow survivor in the facility, Max Rosenbaum (Landau, 9), telling Zev who he is, followed by memory-resetting instructions on how to find the man who killed their families. With a tip that this Nazi Block Commander had escaped somewhere in North America under the assumed name of Rudy Kurlander, Zev sets about going to each of the four men who fit the description until he finds the right one, and then he's going to end his life with a bullet from his store-bought Glock.
Atom Egoyan continues his slide in turning "important issues films" into gimmicky revenge thrillers with Remember, which takes an Auschwitz survivor's quest for revenge and spins it into a subversive genre excursion unworthy of the topic. Egoyan's previous film, The Captive, does the same for child abduction and pornography -- ostensibly about an important topic, but mining the controversy for titillation factor more so than as an important theme to shed much-needed light upon. Both are as weighty as one can get in terms of subject matter -- horrific genocide and the sexual exploitation of children -- and both play out with the kind of plot developments rare to find outside of cheap and silly b-movie thrillers.
Unlike most of his prior works, this time Egoyan shoots from a script not his own. The screenplay credit goes to Benjamin August, his first produced; the screenwriter's prior claim to fame came from working as a casting director for the reality TV show, "Fear Factor" over a decade ago. Perhaps this screenplay, which riffs heavily on Christopher Nolan's Memento, is just as old, though there is an inherent watchability to its main hook that at least brings a modicum of suspense in seeing how it will play out, even if it is repeatedly done in the most clunky of ways during each stop in the journey. It's a Hitchcockian plot, but unlike the Master, Egoyan thinks that it's the plot mechanics that make for nail-biting tension, failing to put much effort into using music, lighting, editing or camera movement to capture us in the moment, the spellbinding techniques that can often help us to forget about the implausibility of it plot turns. Alas, Remember is so slack in its pacing, we're practically forced to mull over the ridiculousness of such scenes as Zev's clumsy purchasing of a powerful firearm and the ease by which he can smuggle it across national borders. In a film with a more respectful hand toward its own issues, we could read into these moments as a commentary on the ease by which a gun may be purchased in the United States, the porousness of the US/Canada border, and the lax attitude toward the elderly as those who couldn't possibly mean harm. Given the lack of commentary on more important issues, they feel more like excessively convenient narrative shortcuts that should have had a great deal of tension, but play out too matter-of-fact to keep you on edge.
As with his main protagonist, Egoyan seems to have a hard time trying to remember how to properly tell a story, as he so ably would do in his early work from the 1990s, like The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Felicia's Journey. His handling and framing of his actors comes across as awkward and wooden much of the time, and plot developments aren't so much nudged and they are forced into submission with a stern twist of the arm, making the entirety of the film's tone feel anxious and pushy. In one ludicrous scene set in Idaho, Zev is greeted by the police officer son of one of his potential marks, who bewilderingly proceeds to let this stranger into his home, reveal far too much in conversation, then begin to show Zev his father's 'super-cool' collection of Nazi memorabilia without so much as vetting Guttman before gleefully showing him, within mere minutes, a series of disturbing artifacts that even a Aryan-loving skinhead would think twice about showing to a person they know to be racist. There are also two aggressively obnoxious scenes involving Zev interacting with children that makes one wonder how long it has been since Egoyan has observed how kids behave. It's no wonder that most of the humanity of the themes fail to emerge when the character motivations in the movie aren't remotely close to anything a real human would do or say in their situations.
Remember is outdated as a psychological thriller and fairly tacky as a piece of entertainment overall. It not only uses the background of the holocaust as a platform for dubiously provocative entertainment, but also uses exploits a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's and dementia as a means for manipulative plot exposition. The performances by Plummer and Landau are adequate, if mechanical, but their characters are merely vessels in service of a contrived plot unworthy of deep contemplation. An examination into the relationship of their history and their current mindset could make for a riveting character study, but clearly, Egoyan is spending too much time trying to pull the rug out from under audiences that he fails to see the fraternity of their struggles as more compelling than the "Aha!" moments he has in store. With the exception of Plummer, who is still quite the thespian worth building a film around, the rest of this subpar faux-weighty film makes Remember one many audiences will likely choose to forget.
©2016 Vince Leo