“Living a lie is not a life,” says Christopher Plummer’s Zev in the climax of Remember, the latest from Atom Egoyan, the ‘90s indie darling behind such celebrated films as The Sweet Hereafter and Chloe – harrowing tales of ordinary people isolated from the rest of the world and unable to truly interact with others. Despite those classics, Egoyan’s star has fallen of late, and this new effort is a harsh reminder that he may have lost his mojo. Following a lonely, senile Holocaust survivor named Zev (Plummer), Remember sees our shambling, confused protagonist on a quest, aided by fellow Holocaust survivor Martin Landau, to track down and kill the camp commander responsible for his family’s deaths.
Egoyan’s filmmaking always evokes a kind of stripped-down intimacy, but in tackling such pulpy material (courtesy of a muddled, laughable script from Benjamin August, his sole writing credit), his uncanny, heightened style comes across as silly and insufficiently campy to lean into the concept’s inherently lurid nature. He’s never been much of a visual stylist, but without a strong script or purposeful performances, the look of the film is inert.
Plummer is the one real saving grace here, imbuing Zev with a fragility and confusion that helps serve him as an unreliable narrator and erstwhile angel of vengeance. This doesn’t extend to the thankless roles everyone else has to play; chief among the offenders is Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris in a broad middle-act appearance, stammering through his dialogue as the white supremacist son of one of Zev’s suspects. Egoyan lingers on Norris’ gaping, scowling maw as he repeatedly accuses Zev, “are you a Jew?!” for approximately half a minute. It’s just long enough to stretch what is meant to be a tense shift in power dynamics into giddily clownish posturing.
Zev’s quest for vengeance is helped along nicely by the smoothest set of conveniences and contrivances a main character could ever enjoy. You know, the kind that are necessary to get a fully loaded Glock 17 in the hands of a dementia-afflicted geriatric who just escaped from a nursing home, and across state and federal lines in multiple instances. At every turn, there’s a helpful bystander or thrift-store clerk to get Zev anything he needs, from short-sleeve button-downs to continental breakfasts. (Given Egoyan’s Canadian heritage, perhaps it makes sense that everyone is just so nice.)
One could write volumes about the scene in which Zev easily gets a gun from a wide-eyed gun store owner who, despite running a federal background check (which takes all of five seconds apparently), still gives a gun to an old man whose memory is so faulty that he asks him to write down instructions for how to use it. If anything, this film may serve as a surprisingly effective gun-control ad: if an old man who needs help to remember where he is can get his hands on a Glock within five minutes of walking into a gun store, even Ted Nugent might agree that we need to make some changes.
On top of everything else – the preposterous leaps in logic, the treacly score from Mychael Danna, the numerous scenes where unattended children get way too real in conversations with an elderly man – Remember’s final minutes lay on its audience the kind of silly, overwrought twist that Charlie Kaufman’s brother in Adaptation would devise. It’s so mind-bogglingly stupid that it’s almost worth actually seeing this thing. A simple film like this, which wants so badly to be about loss, memory, and justice, is absolutely neutered by this kind of reveal.
Remember lies somewhere between a haunting Holocaust drama, a revenge thriller with hints of Taken and Memento, and an inadvertent parody of all of the above. Everyone takes the material so seriously, which only has the Room-like effect of elevating the proceedings to high camp. While Plummer tries his damnedest to anchor Remember in the high drama to which it aspires, Egoyan’s latest is best forgotten.