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New Review: Remember (2016)

Updated on May 20, 2016

Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris

Remember
tells a story that is as grotesquely manipulative as it is ridiculous and predictable. With an actor like Christopher Plummer in the lead and director Atom Egoyan behind the camera, it seems only fair for one to expect something, if not great, then at least worthwhile. But the movie is nothing more than an odious exercise in plot manipulation, treating its heavy themes as nothing more than window dressing for an exploitative thriller. This is one of the worst and most shameful films of 2016.

The film opens with Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), a 90 year old resident at a nursing home who suffers from dementia, waking up looking for his wife Ruth. As it turns out, his wife passed away a week ago, and Zev forgets this every time he wakes up in the morning (or when he wakes from a short nap). During breakfast, he meets a fellow resident named Max (Martin Landau), who reminds him of a promise Zev made to him. Zev, it seems, told Max that, after Ruth passed, he would track down the Nazi officer who murdered their families in Auschwitz so many years ago, and because Zev’s memory is so bad, he gives him a letter to remind him of his task.

With the letter, Max also gives him well over a thousand dollars in cash, as well as a train ticket. I’ll admit that I was very curious to see how Zev was supposed to escape the nursing home and go on his quest for vengeance, and was disappointed to see him just waltz outside and into a taxi cab that was out there waiting for him. Maybe nursing homes are different across the country, but the one I work at now requires you to enter a code to open any door that leads to the outside, and that’s so dementia and Alzheimer’s residents can’t just walk out into the street. I worked at a second nursing home recently, and it was the same thing there. Maybe that’s only a problem here in Georgia?

Needless to say, Zev’s son Charles (Henry Czerny) is enraged at the nursing home his father casually walked out of (I can’t say that I blame him) and spends the bulk of the movie searching for him (mostly, his scenes consist of him screaming into a phone). Meanwhile, Zev travels across the country (and once into Canada) searching for the officer responsible for ruining his and Max’s life (the officer escaped persecution after the war by claiming to be a Jewish survivor). The name he’s been given is Rudy Kulander, and there are four people bearing that name who are the prime suspects.

Not even a great actor like Christopher Plummer can save this unholy mess!
Not even a great actor like Christopher Plummer can save this unholy mess!

The set-up here has more than a few holes, but had it been handled in a thoughtful and delicate way, said holes might have been easier to forgive. Perhaps the only time the movie treats its themes with any degree of sensitivity comes when Zev confronts the second Rudy and discovers that the man was also a Nazi prisoner after it was learned that he was gay (Zev feels guilty for pulling a gun on the man, apologizes, and breaks down right there in his arms). The film’s most over-the-top segment happens when Zev encounters the third Rudy’s son, a neo-Nazi played by a hammy Dean Norris, which ends on a ludicrous and bloody note.

It isn’t until Zev encounters the fourth Rudy (played by Jürgen Prochnow) that the movie turns into something truly despicable. To be honest, it’s very easy to guess the film’s concluding twist, especially when you take into account that we’re not allowed to see what’s on a particular photograph until the movie’s final shot. The problem with the twist isn’t that it’s easy to guess, it’s that it’s all wrong for this movie. There are many ways that the ending here could’ve played out, and screenwriter Benjamin August has chosen the worst and most contrived way imaginable. Not only does it end things on a cynical and pointless note, but it also renders the main quest for revenge into an absurdly complicated scheme on one character’s part, and it turns Zev’s dementia into a cheap plot gimmick.

There is perhaps a good and thematically complex story to be told about an elderly Holocaust survivor meeting the German soldier near the end of his life who tormented him during the war, but Remember is most certainly not that story. Given what we learn in the end, it might have been better if the movie had stayed in the nursing home and focused more on the characters. What’s even more depressing about the film is that it wastes what is truly a magnificent performance by Plummer. You can only imagine how much more effective his performance would have been in a movie that actually cared about its real-life tragic subject instead of one that uses it to spice up a really lame plot.

Rated R for some violence, profanity.

Final Grade: ½ * (out of ****)

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