Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, Henry Czerny
MPAA Rating: (for a sequence of violence and language)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 3/11/16 (limited); 4/8/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 8, 2016
Until its final two scenes, Remember plays as a gimmicky revenge thriller. In a way, only those last scenes really matter. It's not because they force us to reevaluate everything that came before them. It's because they reveal that the movie's gimmick has existed only to sucker punch us with a pessimistic, morally questionable shift.
It's rare that an ending can do so much damage to a movie, but that's the case with the final revelation that Benjamin August's screenplay so awkwardly, unjustifiable lands on us. Before this review just becomes a string of assaults on the climactic reveal, as necessary as such an attack may be, let's change gears to what comes before the ending. That's also necessary in order to detail why the conclusion is as wrong-headed as it is.
The movie stars Christopher Plummer, in a sympathetic performance, as Zev Guttman (a loaded surname), a German immigrant who came to the United States after World War II. He suffers from dementia, and at the start of the story, 90-year-old Zev has forgotten that his wife of many decades died two weeks ago. He lives in a nursing home, and as his mourning family prepares to leave after the funeral and religious observations, Zev's friend Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) reminds him that he has a task to perform. Zev made a promise, even though he has forgotten it. Max wrote it down in a letter. The envelope also contains cash and a train ticket.
The promise was and is to find the commander of the block where Zev and Max's families were imprisoned and killed at Auschwitz. The soldier escaped prosecution after the war by adopting the identity of a Jewish survivor. Max, who has spent his life hunting for fugitive Nazi war criminals, has narrowed the potential targets to four people with the name "Rudy Kurlander."
Because of the advanced age of the men, the ailing Max determines that the murderer likely will not live to see justice done to him. Zev's mission is to find the Nazi and kill him.
As exploitative and manipulative as it may be, the premise is relatively sound, and Plummer's performance is strong enough to keep us focused on the emotional turmoil of a man who is both gifted and cursed with his inability to recall his past. That seems to be director Atom Egoyan's central focus, too.
The overarching theme of memory serves this material well, even though August primarily implements it as a way of manufacturing suspense from the plot (Far cleverer is the way characters trust Zev, even when he is trying to enter Canada with an expired passport or caught with a handgun, simply on account of his age). If Zev cannot even remember that his wife died less than a month ago, how can he be trusted to recognize the face of a man he hasn't seen in decades?
The confrontations with the different personages of Rudy Kurlander are the crux here. Since the screenplay establishes that there are four suspects, it becomes a foregone conclusion that Zev will encounter all four in some way or another. Of the first three, two of them were German soldiers during the Nazi era, and one turns out to be a fellow survivor. Zev, a nominally "good man," breaks down in tears at the realization that he has accused this particular man.
The other two interrogations are intriguing, because they present Zev with a potential moral dilemma. The first Rudy (Bruno Ganz) was a German soldier during the war. The third suspect is dead, but from a conversation with the man's son (Dean Norris), Zev discovers that he was, for all intents and purposes except for actually being an official part of the government's genocidal machine, a Nazi (The dead man's room is filled with paraphernalia, and the son keeps a German Shepherd, which elicits a reflexive dread in Zev). Is a person's unrepentant sympathy with a homicidal cause enough of a reason to act against that person?
It's a dilemma that movie mostly ignores, save for the outcome of the scene with the dead man's son, which turns almost maniacal in its manipulations. The confrontation with the fourth Rudy (Jürgen Prochnow) raises another issue about repentance or, at least, moving forward from the sins of the past.
In the end, though, such concerns are meaningless for the movie because of that ending. Remember concludes with a substantial betrayal of the audience's trust that puts the story in a context that is as pointless as it is cynical.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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