Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Atom Egoyan’s Remember

It is good for seniors to pick up a hobby, like gardening or whittling sharp sticks. Zev Guttman chose revenge. More precisely, he committed to its pursuit once his beloved wife passed. His memory is pretty porous these days, but his wheelchair bound crony Max Rosenbaum is as alert as ever. In fact, he has leads on the despised Auschwitz commandant who sent their families to their deaths. Rosenbaum provides the planning and the increasingly addled Guttman still intends to pull the trigger in Atom Egoyan’s Remember (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Somehow, Guttman and Rosenbaum were unexpectedly reunited in a Canadian assisted living complex decades after they both survived the notorious concentration camp. Guttman largely put the past behind him, building a new life with his Canadian wife, while Rosenbaum worked with Simon Wiesenthal tracking down National Socialists. Unfortunately, Rosenbaum’s failing body needs constant oxygen, whereas the dementia-wracked Guttman remains relatively hale and hearty.

With the help of Rosenbaum’s cheat sheets (bringing to mind a few indie thrillers from around the turn of the millennium), Guttman sets off in search of their prey. According to the old National Socialist hunter’s intel, their nemesis is living somewhere in the Pacific Northwest under the assumed name Rudy Kurlander. There will be four Kurlanders for Guttman to confront, so it is probably a good bet the fourth suspect will be the fateful one.

Remember’s third act implications make it dashed difficult film to take stock of. It might just be too clever for its own good. An interminably long interlude featuring a late Rudy Kurlander’s ridiculously anti-Semitic sheriff’s deputy son does not exactly help the flow much either. Nevertheless, Remember is a far cry from Egoyan’s recent misfires, like The Captive and Devil’s Knot. Regardless of its manipulations, the film pulls viewers in and keeps a hold on them.

Much credit is due to Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, who both look like they are on death’s door as Guttman and Rosenbaum, respectively. There is a remarkable physicality and vulnerability to Plummer’s performance, whereas Landau’s crackling smart presence always gives the film an energy lift, even with his ever present oxygen tank. Jürgen Prochnow also adds some ironic bite as one Rudy Kurlander, but Bruno Ganz is largely wasted as another Rudy Kurlander.

Combining Holocaust themes with genre elements of any sort is always a tricky business. “Pulling it off” would be a strong term, but at least Egoyan maintains the film’s structural integrity while navigating some perilous straights. It is the rare sort of film that can engender intensely mixed feelings within a given viewer. Cautiously recommended for the work of Plummer and the award worthy Landau, Remember opens this Friday (3/11) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema.