A worse-for-wear Christopher Plummer leads the cast of geriatric revenge thriller Remember, a film that could easily be interpreted as an exploitative B-movie camouflaged as a serious rumination on age, memory loss and mortality.
Watching it teeter on the precipice of both descriptions, never really becoming either, is nothing if not a memorable exercise – though not necessarily for all the right reasons.
In this curious and at times, crazed, experiment from veteran Canadian director Atom Egoyan, Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor suffering from dementia. He is at sixes and sevens most of the time, polite but crotchety and grief-stricken: a man who knows his days are numbered and his grip on reality tenuous.
Living out his last days in a nursing home in New York, Zev joins forces with fellow resident Max (Martin Landau) to enact belated revenge on the SS officer who murdered both their families years ago at Auschwitz. Max is wheelchair-bound and thus incapable of travelling across the country to do it himself; Zev is physically able but his mind is folding in on itself.
The distraught but determined antihero carries around a letter reminding him of the job at hand. He routinely consults it, like Guy Pearce studying his own tattoos in Christopher Nolan’s memory loss classic Memento. Zev goes cross-country, buys a gun and accosts potential killers.
The blood-splotched pensioner revenge pic was more explosively explored in Harry Brown, and more poignantly contemplated in Gran Torino; two films that were entirely fashioned around old codgers telling young people to get the hell off their lawn.
Plummer makes the octogenarian hit man not just believable, but kind of tragic.
In Remember, it’s pensioner-on-pensioner, with a question mark over who is accountable and where this person might be residing. Penned by first-time screenwriter Benjamin August, it is the sort of film conducive to being described as bits of this and that: an on-the-road Death Wish by way of Grumpy Old Men, with a Nazi hunting twist.
Plummer, in brilliant control of ever breath and blink, provides the film with sorely needed gravitas. So much so that one completely forgets, or perhaps never even realises, that the premise of the plot is faintly preposterous. Plummer makes the octogenarian hit man not just believable, but kind of tragic. There’s a feeling that instead of spending his final moments on earth gracefully, Zev is doing everything the wisdom of age should have taught him not to.
There are some strangely compelling moments, such as when the handgun-waving senior discovers the house he is visiting – owned by a cop, played by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris – is a shrine to Nazis. This scene is indicative of wider issues: plausible in the scheme of things, but it’s hard to know what Egoyan is getting at beyond the inevitable trite readings (i.e. the pursuit of revenge will not salve the pains of the past).
Still, there’s something to it – a curiously muddled subtext that can swing in different directions. The underlining message could be that time can bend our motivations in cruel ways, from craving peace at one point in our lives to doggedly pursuing wars in another. There is even a peace/war synergy in Plummer’s oeuvre: just over half a century ago the actor fled the Nazis in The Sound of Music; here he’ll do anything to get in their face.