Move over Neeson, Costner, Brosnan and Penn, if you want to see how a geriatric thriller should be done, Christopher Plummer and Atom Egoyan have schooled us all. There’s no need for cavalier violence, regular explosions or the unnecessary plunging of a family member into peril. A robust cause, and concessions to the requirements of age, when allied to a script as tight as Benjamin August’s, should do the trick. A late and surprising injection of adrenaline into the main competition at Venice, Remember sustains tension like few other films, sending Plummer hurtling down a road no one wants to drive.
Plummer plays Zev, battling dementia in a care home in New York. His wife recently passed away, though he often forgets. As devastating a personal tragedy as this is, it frees him for a mission cooked up with old friend Max. For Zev is a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, along with Max (Martin Landau), and they believe they finally have a handle on the SS camp officer who killed both their families. Max has discovered the officer, Otto Wallisch, escaped Germany under an assumed name. All Zev has to do is track down the four people who arrived after the war under the name Rudy Kurlander, and work out which one is his man. And what then? Well let’s just say one of his first locations is a gun shop.
Making the most of what they have, Zev and Max pool abilities. Wheelchair and oxygen mask bound Max does all the planning, ensuring taxis and hotels await his friend at every destination. He also provides him with a letter explaining both the mission, and every step to take. This letter proves invaluable, the one item that allows him to remember what he’s supposed to be doing. Referencing Memento, Zev even takes to scrawling reminders to read it on his arm in pen.
Mixing Nazis, infirmity and a screenwriting gimmick in this way could have gone horribly wrong. Remember certainly walks a fine line at times. Zev, relaxing in the bath, will shut his eyes for a moment to open them a different and very confused man. This trick is used just enough, sometimes for comic effect, other times as an excuse for more exposition when he returns to the letter.
Plummer, weary, confused and committed is on top form, putting in a great twilight performance. He moves with stuttering awkwardness, and allows Zev’s composure to break when he gets his targets in sight. As he ticks them off, a tense atmosphere begins to turn electric. It’s like standing outside before a thunder storm hits. The change is palpable but it’s not clear when the heavens will open.
Egoyan is perhaps even more of a revelation than Plummer, partly because he’s been so low for so long. The highly acclaimed Canadian director has been on a run that’s seen him tread water with a succession of mediocre films, occasionally even dipping into the dreadful. Remember is a spectacular return to form as he demonstrates an iron grip throughout. He never allows dips that might sap tension, nor does he let the plot run ahead, rushing the shocks to come. There’s little action, but when it does happen, it’s the kind that leaves seat arms gripped frantically across the cinema.
Diversions occur along the way, but nothing can stop Zev. He’s an avenging angel who will have his day. It won’t be the one he expects. The ending is a stunner, one of those rare moments when it all comes together to leave everyone reeling. Remember is brilliant. Tattoo it on your arm if you have to, just don’t forget.
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Benjamin August
Stars: Dean Norris, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau
runtime: 95 min
Country: Canada, Germany