Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan has done a lot of apparent work for hire over the past few years, and none of these projects have approached the brilliance of a masterpiece like “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997). But most have drawn on his recurrent themes of memory and identity, guilt and redemption,
“Remember,” his latest film, written by first-timer Benjamin August, draws on a lot of other sources as well: films like “Memento,” “Mission Impossible,” and “Marathon Man.” It touches on big topics like the Holocaust, dementia, and middle-class American mores, and in doing so verges on bad taste. Despite all that, and an implausible plot, Egoyan ekes out an engaging and meaningful potboiler.
For a start, he knows how to cast classy codgers. Who else but Christopher Plummer, winner of a 2010 best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as a widower on a mission in “Beginners,” to play recent widower Zev Gutman, an octogenarian Auschwitz survivor? After his wife dies, though suffering from dementia, Gutman escapes his nursing home and treks cross-country to find Otto Wallisch, the SS officer who murdered his family. A hit man with no memory? Somehow Plummer makes that not only believable, but tragic.
And who other than Martin Landau, Mr. “Mission Impossible” himself, to play Max Rosenbaum, another Auschwitz survivor at the same retirement facility as Gutman. Rosenbaum is the brains behind the operation, having written Gutman step-by-step directions on how to proceed. Sitting in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen tank, he follows Gutman’s progress anxiously by phone.
Wallisch had escaped to North America under the alias Rudy Kurlander, and Rosenbaum has narrowed the list of potential suspects to four. So like a tottering, geriatric Terminator, Gutman tracks them down. They include Bruno Ganz, who played a memorable Hitler in “Downfall.” Moreover, Ganz starred in Wim Wenders’s “The American Friend,” another thriller about an unlikely assassin.
Along with Egoyan’s subtle wisps of atmosphere, his seamless, unemphatic narrative style and poignant, throwaway details, these performances almost make one forget the contrivances. Nor does Egoyan forget the enormity of the Holocaust that lies at the heart of this Oedipus-like quest. In the end, those determined to forget will remember only when it is too late.
Directed by Atom Egoyan. Written by Benjamin August. Starring Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow. At West Newton Cinema. 95 minutes. R (a sequence of violence and language).