For some time now, filmmaker Atom Egoyan has been on a curious path. The Academy Award nominated writer and director was cited in Best Director and Adapted Screenplay back at the 70th Oscars for The Sweet Hereafter, but his career has been hit or miss since. In fact, over the past decade, Egoyan has been in a noticeable slump. While his new film Remember is far too uneven to be his comeback, it is a step in the right direction, especially since he’s armed with a strong performance from Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. However, as good as Plummer is, Egoyan’s direction is all over the place and the source material itself is a bit of mess, creating a final product that is deeply inconsistent. Certain scenes are quietly powerful, while others are done with an absurdist bent that veers towards the edge of parody. Some of Egoyan’s best qualities are shown here, but not far from some of his worst are as well. It all adds up to Remember being little more than an interesting failure from a filmmaker too often known for just that these days.
The film is a dramatic tale of revenge, with thriller elements periodically added in for good measure. Zev Gutman (Plummer) is an elderly man in the early throes of dementia, spending his days in a home for seniors. His wife has just passed away and it’s clearly affected him, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by his friend Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau). In fact, Max has been planning an act of vengeance that he needs Zev to help out with. You see, they’re both survivors of Auschwitz and are looking to finally track down the Nazi responsible for the deaths of many loved ones. Max is of sound mind but wheelchair bound, so he sends out the able bodied and but mentally addled Zev, armed with a letter detailing the mission, as well as later a handgun. There are four possible men with the name Rudy Kurlander that they’re looking for, so Zev sets out on a road trip, tracking them down one by one. It all builds towards a twist ending of sorts that you’ll see coming, but for much of the second act of Remember, it’ll just be the repetition of seeing Zev forget where he is, read the letter, and continue on with his mission.
If there’s a reason that this movie almost works, it’s certainly the performance given by Christopher Plummer. He is fully committed to this role, even when things get more than a little bit silly. Case in point is a sequence involving the son of one perspective Rudy Kurlander. That man is played by Dean Norris and is an intense Nazi sympathizer. Zen talks his way in and begins to try and find out if he’s in the right place or not. I won’t say where it goes, but the scene gets progressively ridiculous and feels out of a more surreal film that this. It’s well shot, but just wrong for this flick. The constant? Plummer, who realistically portrays an older gentlemen suffering with dementia. He’s quite literally the heart and soul of the picture. Martin Landau is very solid as well, but this is strictly a supporting part for him. In addition to Norris, the cast of Remember includes Henry Czerny, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, and more. It’s all about Plummer though, who makes this perhaps more enjoyable than it should be.
Atom Egoyan mixes genres here a bit more than he probably should, diluting the effectiveness of the core plot in Remember. I’m sure some of the blame should be placed at the feet of screenwriter Benjamin August, but in that interview I mentioned, Egoyan specifically said this script attracted his attention, so it has to be a mix. At times, we have a quiet meditation about getting older as well as a poignant look at what the price of revenge is, but at other points it’s a winking satire of middle America and a repetitive road trip movie. That doesn’t include when the film goes off the rails in that one scene previously spoken of, as well as the climax. Aegean does let Plummer shine though, so there’s that, along with a nice score from the talented composer Mychael Danna. It’s not enough to warrant a recommendation, but it’s something.
Overall, Remember is too flawed to get my thumb pointed upward, but it does contain a performance from Plummer that is worth some praise. Egoyan still has a top notch movie in him, I can feel it, but this just wasn’t it. If you wind up seeing Remember, see it for Plummer. Otherwise, this is one that you can wait to look at as a curiosity on DVD or On Demand.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!