By Elias Savada.
The perception that people of significantly older age can’t control their destinies, particularly if dementia is knocking at their door, is expressively examined in Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan’s Remember, a substantially wobbly, yet incredibly persuasive Holocaust revenge thriller masquerading as a cross-country road movie. The award-winning Egoyan, known for such challenging films as The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Chloe (2009), has taken the first produced script from Hanoi-based Benjamin August (who previously served as casting director on TV’s Fear Factor, 2001- ) and filled this decidedly clever piece – a search for one of the nefarious commanders who ruled Auschwitz during World War II – with a bevy of old men.
The film is another great showcase for the illustrious 86-year-old Christopher Plummer, whose television, screen, and stage career has now spanned over 60 glorious years. It comes just a few years after the octogenarian won a well deserved best supporting performance Oscar for his out-of-the-closet role in Beginners (2010). On a strictly mechanical level, it is easy to consider co-star Martin Landau’s performance a phone-in contribution, but you’ll find that 87-year-old actor, himself crowned with the same Academy Award for Ed Wood (1994), is still captivating in a long-running career that began during the Golden Age of anthology television in the 1950s.
Newly widowed Zev Guttman (Plummer) lives in a disturbing memory fog at the Jewish assisted living center where his family moved him some months earlier. His remembrances are on the edge of obsolescence after 90 years of life and a week after the death of his wife for almost 70 of those. Wavering over toast and whatever else they’re serving for breakfast, he’s joined at his table by his new best friend Max Rosenbaum (Landau), whose age is defined by the liver spots on his face and the awful cough in his oxygen-deprived lungs, although there is definitely a brightness in his light blue eyes. Both were at Auschwitz during WWII.
August’s script transplants plot elements from Groundhog Day (1994), Memento (1999), and even Terminator (1984, in Zev’s unwavering hunt for a Concentration Camp Commandant), as Zev finds himself on a sufficiently-funded mission that has been meticulously engineered by Max from his control room back in the New York retirement facility. In a stretch for the screenplay, this requires the often absent-minded Zev to repeat (often assisted by the kindness of strangers – or by too convenient happenstance opportunities) certain exercises to get on track after he has strayed from his senior care home. He’s bound on a cross-continental search-and-kill crusade for a particular Rudy Kurlander (four men share the name – good thing it’s not Bob Smith), a poseur name for Commandant Otto Wallisch. Zev is unfocused but eager to play along in this Pavlovian experiment, one where there’s unsettling self-confidence in Max’s puppet master role. Is he Svengali or savior?
As this unhurried mystery heads by train or bus to Cleveland, Canada, Boise and Bruneau (Idaho), Reno, and Lake Tahoe, the kindness of strangers often play into the mix. If Zev strays, it seems someone is always there to right his way from his numerous moments of unsettling vagueness. And while Zev’s son (Henry Czerny) is concerned about his missing father, most alarms (a gun background examination in Ohio, an expired passport check at the Canadian border) fall silent, never ringing in the anxious family’s direction as to the old man’s far-from-home location.
Sharing brief moments on screen with Plummer are Bruno Ganz and Jürgen Prochnow, but it’s Dean Norris (Breaking Bad, 2008-13), as a hard-drinking state trooper and son of one of the suspects, who bares an ugly American underbelly that is incredibly scary. His scene-stealing segment is particularly unsettling, as explosions from a nearby mine rumble through a Nazi-enshrined household.
Remember plays as a meet-and-greet potboiler, with bread crumbs of clues tossed along its path for us to consider. The film’s occasional harrowing scenes are enshrouded in an effective score by Mychael Danna, although not as memorable as his Oscar-winning music for Life of Pi (2012).
Dementia be damned, the aging ghosts that haunt Remember are what make it unforgettable.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.