Wednesday 5 June 2019

Movie Review: Remember (2015)

A Holocaust personal revenge drama, Remember is an intellectual thriller set in the world of old men settling old scores.

Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) survived World War Two and is now in his 90s, suffering from dementia and unable to process the recent loss of his wife Ruth. Auschwitz survivor Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) is a wheelchair-bound patient at the New York City care home where Ruth passed away. Max supplies Zev with detailed written instructions to help Zev fulfil a promise to track down and kill a former Auschwitz headguard named Otto Wallisch.

Otto is known to have assumed the name Rudy Kurlander to escape from Germany to North America at the end of the war, and Max has identified four men with that name in the United States and Canada. Struggling with a frequently failing memory, Zev follows Max's meticulous instructions and starts his cross-country journey to sequentially find and interrogate every Rudy Kurlander.

The long shadows cast by the horrors of the Holocaust are the inspiration for an intriguing story conjured up by scriptwriter Benjamin August and brought to the screen by director Atom Egoyan. With an emphasis on life drawing to a close for a generation of men who survived the war, Remember explores the stress imposed by failing physical and mental health, and the unrelenting thirst for human vengeance, even when nature is close to achieving the same ultimate objective.

At a running time of 94 minutes, the film's pacing is efficient and measured. The fairly complex premise is presented in an admirably streamlined format, Egoyan quickly launching Zev off onto his quest and then gradually revealing the context at appropriate intervals. The individual interactions that follow are all well staged, but an exquisitely tense encounter with an Idaho State Trooper, an angry dog, and a roomful of memorabilia at an isolated farmhouse deserves special praise. 

As with all good road movies, Zev's trip is as much about self-discovery as it is about finding the right man. Along the way he learns about his fears, tolerances, the fortitude within, and unwelcome truths. The climax features a good although foreseeable twist, but is also relatively rushed.

Christopher Plummer carries the weight of the film and is an exemplary presence in a performance filled with the anguish of failing mental capacity and the unyielding strain of physical and emotional exertion. In addition to Landau, the supporting cast also includes stalwarts Bruno Ganz and J├╝rgen Prochnow.

Cerebral and engrossing, Remember asks how long is too long in the pursuit of war criminals, and whether appropriating justice into the hands of individuals bent on revenge by any means is ever justified. Because while memories slip away, for some old men the trauma never fades.

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