Revenge, Geriatric Style

(Canada/Germany, 95 min.)
Dir. Atom Egoyan, Writ. Benjamin August
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Henry Czerny
Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer star in Remember.
Photo: Sophie Giraud © 2014, Remember Productions Inc.1

The elderly are getting a second wind at the movies these days. They’re staying at Exotic Marigold Hotels (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and enjoying posh Swiss spas (Youth). They’re singing in Quartets (Quartet) and being good grandmas (Grandma). They’re even killing folks, like Christopher Plummer does in Atom Egoyan’s new golden oldie thriller Remember playing Zev, a Holocaust survivor out to kill some Nazis like a mofo from a Tarantino film.

Geriatric revenge dramas are a peculiar subgenre, but one that works in its own peculiar way. I mean, Michael Caine’s been putting caps in people’s asses for years, but Zev isn’t the suave and debonair gangster that Harry Brown is. Zev, suffering from dementia at his age, which accelerates in the grief of losing his wife, walks with the shakiness of an old and feeble man and not the assurance of a righteous British gangster. As Zev confronts his past and loses himself in old age, Remember shows how the pains of memory hit deeper and harder than bullets ever could.

His mission is simple, but complex: hunt down the man who killed his family and deliver justice. The mission comes with help from his friend in the retirement home, Max (Martin Landau), who writes a full letter with details of potential names, aliases, and addresses of the Nazis who murdered both their families in Auschwitz. Max assists from the retirement home and books flights, hotels, and taxis from the memory-plagued Zev, who travels around the US and Canada in search of his family’s killer. The game plan is a little dodgy, since the exercise screams pre-meditated murder as Zev and Max leave a full trail of clues, evidence, and motive for the deeds—not that they care, though, for justice now is worth whatever comes to them after their looming deaths.

The script by Benjamin August plays with crime and memory akin to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, albeit in a fully linear fashion, as Remember builds to the inevitable showdown between Zev and his mark, as well as Zev’s own confrontation with the painful memories he supresses. Elements of humour, both intentional and unintentional, sharpen the unevenness in tone, although some instances of black humour, like the droll addition of a bitch named Eva Braun, relieve tension when needed.

Remember walks with a gait more akin to Zev than do Harry Brown as it wheezes a little with some pacing that tires and struggles like a senior hobbling around the mall. The film brings Zev in company with some seedy characters, the nastiest of which is a modern day Nazi scumbag, whom Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris plays with gnarly relish. This scene is especially unsettling since it brings Zev to an apparent loose end only to reveal that the evils that instigated the murders in his past are still present today. Zev, enfeebled yet empowered in the presence of this hard-drinking skinhead, is at his strongest even as he recoils in his seat and wets himself before his foe. Plummer keeps Zev inspired at every moment, though, dutifully playing his character’s frailty and his thirst for justice.

The depth of Remember puts it straight into Atom Egoyan territory and the film therefore puts the director a bit more on his game as he finds the right stroke of insight with which to approach the characters. Making heavy use of close-ups, which accentuate the liver spots on Plummer and especially co-star Martin Landau, Egoyan lets the actors convey the weight of the grief their characters have carried in the decades since the Holocaust. Similarly, the delirious score by Mychael Danna lends a Hitchcockian atmosphere while spinning the fragments of memory that swim muddled in Zev’s mind. The film finds a complex moral weight as the trauma of Zev’s past jitters his memory further as the strain of remembering pains him the closer he comes to doing his deed.

Remember, as far as action goes, leaves something to be desired as Plummer moves feebly and trembles with his gun whilst Nazi hunting. The feebleness has a purpose, though, so Remember finds merit thematically in some of the elements that strain it dramatically. Zev clearly has little time left in this world, and Plummer gives a fine performance as he creates a man who shakes not with the strains of age but with the burden of memory.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Remember is currently playing in limited release.
It screens in Ottawa at Cineplex Lansdowne.