Directed by: Atom Egoyan.
Written by: Benjamin August.
Starring: Christopher Plummer (Zev), Martin Landau (Max), Jürgen Prochnow (Rudy), Bruno Ganz (Rudy), Henry Czerny (Charles), Dean Norris (John), Peter DaCunha (Tyler), Sofia Wells (Molly), Kim Roberts (Paula), Jane Spidell (Kristin Kurlander), Stefani Kimber (Inge).
The progression of Atom Egoyan’s career has been interesting to watch. In the mid-1990s, he was celebrated as one of the great “up-and-coming” directors by the likes of Roger Ebert (even though Egoyan had been directing for more than decade at that point) when he released his masterpieces – Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). He was seen as the next great Canadian director after David Cronenberg – but almost immediately after The Sweet Hereafter, his films started to get less and less enthusiastic critical responses. The critics seem to like – mainly – Felicia’s Journey (1999) and Ararat (2002) – but were less kind to Where the Truth Lies (2005) and Adoration (2008) – two films that probably were not helped by debuting in competition at Cannes. I admired his films longer than many did – I think Where the Truth Lies is actually one of his best, and I quite like Adoration as well – a film that in retrospect seems more and more like the last of a certain kind of Egoyan film. Since then, he has made three films that have been widely dismissed – his would-be erotic thriller Chloe (2009), his comatose small town in Satanic panic film Devil’s Knot (2013) and his would-be thriller The Captive (2014), which was perhaps more ambitious than people gave it credit for, but still didn’t add up to much. It’s not unusual for once great directors to experience a decline in quality at some point – it’s the norm, not the exception – but what’s been interesting, and somewhat sad, about watching Egoyan is that the films don’t even feel like his anymore. A part of this in undeniably because unlike everything he made up until Chloe, he hasn’t written the screenplay for these movies (aside from The Captive) – and perhaps they are simply director-for-hire gigs, made to pay the bills. Still though, I have a hard time thinking that the man who made The Sweet Hereafter – a masterful portrait of a small town in grief – is the same man who made Devil’s Knot, which could have used a similar treatment.
Egoyan’s latest film Remember is not a return to form – it still doesn’t really feel like an Egoyan film – but it is his best since Adoration – mainly because it features an excellent performance by Christopher Plummer in the lead role, who keeps the movie grounded even as it gets increasingly ridiculous. The film does touch on many of Egoyan’s favorite themes – guilt, punishment, memory, identity – but not in very serious ways. What’s interesting about the film is how it slowly shifts – it starts out as a rather somber drama, and gradually becomes almost an exploitation thriller by the end. I do wish that filmmakers would stop thinking that every movie of this sort requires a shocking twist ending, although I do think that Egoyan doesn’t cheat here – he lays the groundwork for the twist (if the film were slightly better, I would be tempted to watch it a second time to see if there’s more than I missed – as it stands, once is enough).
The film stars Plummer as Zev – a man in his late 80s living in an old age home, who has just lost his wife of many years. Zev suffers from dementia – he has trouble remembering things, including a promise that he apparently made to Max (Martin Landau), a fellow resident, now confined to a wheelchair. Both Zev and Max were at Auschwitz together, and Max – who has spent his life hunting down Nazis – says he has found the block captain, responsible for the murder of both of their families. He is going under a different name now, and there are four possibilities in the USA and Canada of who he might be. Zev had promised Max that when his wife died, he would go to visit each of these men, and kill the one responsible for the crimes. Max has written him a long, detailed note and made all the arrangements for him. Zev reads the note again and again – because every time he wakes up, he forgets where he is, and what he is doing.
You can, of course, poke more than a few holes in the premise of the movie – after all, is it likely there would be that many German immigrants, with the same name and age, who would still be alive 70 years after the end of WWII? But this is one of those movies where you simply have to accept the premise and movie on – otherwise, it will drive you crazy. And Plummer, who is roughly the same age as the character, and still seems sharp and as a tack in real life, does an excellent job in the lead role. He is at the center of practically every scene in the movie, and while you can doubt the premise of the movie, I don’t think you can doubt the character Plummer creates here. The film moves relatively quickly through its 95 minute runtime, the side effect being that none of the other characters in the movie are very well defined – although Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris and Jürgen Prochnow definitely leave impressions in their limited screen time.
The ending of the film bugged me – basically because it seemed like a rather lame attempt to shock the audience by pulling the rug out from beneath the audience one last time. It wasn’t really needed in the film that already had its share of shocking moments. Overall though, Remember is the best film Egoyan has made since Adoration – faint praise I know, but still, he seems slightly more invested this time out. We may never get the Egoyan who made several masterworks back – but hopefully we get more films that are at least as good as Remember (or even better), and fewer like Devil’s Knot. Remember is far from a great film – but it’s a decent one, and it’s been far too long since we could say that about an Egoyan film.