A broken old man plumbing depths of tragedy one last time

A broken old man plumbing depths of tragedy one last time

By ABHIMANYU DAS | | 18 June, 2016
Still from Remember.
Sometimes, one of the greatest pleasures afforded by a movie is the quiet spectacle of an old pro working at the top of his game. Christopher Plummer, now 86, has been solidly implanted into the childhood memories of many a middle-class Indian via his performance as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. But the man has been responsible for decades of superior work in a variety of films, the latest of which is Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s Remember. An unlikely and sometimes uneasy mix of Memento and Munich, the film is uneven, especially in its final minutes. Plummer, however, delivers such a layered and sympathetic performance that nearly all the film’s flaws — a ridiculous plot twist aside — are rendered forgivable. Remember starts off like an Oscar-bait drama about aging and memory and slowly metamorphoses into a melodramatic exploitation thriller and Plummer, unsurprisingly, seems comfortable on both sides of the fence.

He plays recent widower Zev Gutman, living out his last days in an upscale retirement home. A fellow Holocaust survivor and retirement home denizen named Max (Martin Landau) has, after years of investigation, discovered that the Nazi officer who killed both their families at Auschwitz is living in North America under the false name of Rudy Kurlander. The catch is that there are three possible candidates. Max, who is wheelchair-bound, sends Zev — relatively mobile but addled by dementia — to track each one down, identify the guilty party and kill him.

If the idea of an 86-year-old dementia-ridden assassin sounds ludicrous, it is. The premise is absurd but, thanks to Egoyan and Plummer’s talents, the emotional underpinnings and thriller elements are both sound.

If the idea of an 86-year-old dementia-ridden assassin sounds ludicrous, it is. The premise is absurd but, thanks to Egoyan and Plummer’s talents, the emotional underpinnings and thriller elements are both sound. The former’s clinical affect enhances the latter’s sensitive work, leaving it to wander unmoored through a bleak landscape devoid of warmth or comfort. Zev’s activities are chronicled in deliberately paced sequences that underscore the combination of fragility and determination that characterizes them. Despite the shadow of the Holocaust hanging constantly over the proceedings, Remember doesn’t have a whole lot of insight, political or otherwise, to offer about it. If anything, its most pointedly political scene is one in which the obviously confused Zev buys a handgun with absurd ease. As a whole, the film is more interested in toying with the relationship between memory and identity, with history and tragedy the complicating factors in an ever-raging battle to define oneself. A battle that, in this case, has a foregone conclusion thanks to Zev’s condition.

It’s not all character work either. Despite messing things up a bit at the end, Egoyan delivers some genuine suspense on the road leading up to it. The further down his list Zev gets, the more lurid the proceedings. Instead of dressing these developments up in arthouse drag, Egoyan leans into them, a decision that culminates in a claustrophobic and supremely disturbing encounter between Zev and a seemingly congenial state trooper played by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris. The son of one of the would-be Kurlanders, he slowly reveals dark depths that don’t bode particularly well for our hapless protagonist. It’s just one of the film’s bizarre confrontations, indicating that Egoyan, a director celebrated for more respectable work like The Sweet Hereafter, is more than capable of reinforcing — some would say undermining — his more high-minded preoccupations with a heady dose of genre-inspired adrenaline. Some have accused Remember of being offensive in its treatment of Holocaust-related themes within a B-movieframework but these criticisms are, in my opinion, defused by the seriousness of Plummer’s efforts here. He is not playing a vengeful action hero but, rather, a broken old man plumbing a lifetime of tragedy for one last reserve of strength. Plummer plays Zev straight and, in doing so, invests the film with the gravity that only a grizzled veteran like him can muster.

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