It was in 2007, with the low-budget indie Man in the Chair, that Christopher Plummer, long a respected actor, suddenly seemed to burst back onto the Hollywood scene with a series of performances ranging from his vocal work in Pixar's Up to his Oscar-nominated performance in 2010's The Last Station and his Oscar-winning performance in 2012's Beginners, the latter being the performance that turned Plummer into the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.
Plummer is 86-years-old now and, once again, he turns in an award-worthy performance as Zev Guttman, a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor with dementia who, with the aid of a fellow survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), leaves the sanctuary of his retirement community in search of the man suspected of being responsible for the deaths of both of their families.
Director Atom Egoyan is, for some, considered an acquired taste. For this critic? Egoyan has seldom made a misstep while creating some of the most thoughtful, compelling and intelligent cinema of the past 30+ years beginning with 1984's Next of Kin. Even his harshest critics are having to acknowledge that with Remember, Egoyan has crafted an unforgettable film weaving together scenes of stark intimacy with chilling suspense and even elements of dark humor.
Of course, much of the credit must be given to Christopher Plummer, who is simply mesmerizing as Guttman, perfectly capturing both his cognitive decline and his seemingly instinctual, though very guided, movements toward revenge. In some ways, one could say that Plummer finds the balance in his character that Egoyan doesn't always find in his film and first-time screenwriter Benjamin August doesn't always find in the story being told. With a Memento-like structure and elements of a road film that can so easily go awry, it is remarkable that Remember remains such a memorable film.
There is always a hazard when approaching these types of road films that the mini-stories will fail to convincingly construct a full story. Such is not the case for Remember, which finds Guttman traveling to "visit" four men living in the U.S. under the name Rudy Kurlander, the name determined by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to be that of the man both Guttman and Rosenbaum are hoping to find. It helps that Egoyan always takes casting of even the smallest parts in his films seriously, thus this journey will find Plummer's Guttman encountering Kurlanders portrayed by the likes of Jurgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz and Heinz Lieven, though it is his encounter with John Kurlander (Dean Norris), the son of a now deceased Rudy Kurlander, that will prove to be the film's most intense and vividly realized encounter.
Martin Landau is similarly mesmerizing to Plummer, though in a more briefly realized role yet one that is no less essential to everything that unfolds. Landau, a 1995 Oscar winner for Ed Wood, gives a disciplined, understated performance as Max, a crucial component in making sure that the cards are never fully revealed until Egoyan is ready to reveal them.
If you're familiar with Egoyan's work, then the notion of surprises won't exactly be a surprise. While Egoyan is nowhere near as predictable in his twists as, say, a Shyamalan, he's never been hesitant to pull his audience's heart and mind one direction only to turn an entirely different direction. For the most part, he does so with authenticity and intelligence.
Remember, which opens in Fort Wayne on April 8th, is being released by A24 Films, one of the few indie distributors to be trusted with releasing such complex, not necessarily market friendly material. Remember isn't one of Egoyan's best films, though Plummer tries his damndest to make it so, but it's still one of his better films and most are likely to consider it one of his best films in the last few years. With stand-out performances from its ensemble cast, Remember weaves together a thoughtful story of family and loss into a more universal story of the impossibility of ever truly leaving the past behind into a film that will continue to play with your psyche' for quite some time.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic