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Remember | Blu-ray Review

Atom Egoyan Remember Blu-ray Ever since his 2009 mainstream breakthrough Chloe (an English language rehash of a 2003 film from Anne Fontaine), Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan has been on a bit of a disappointing streak. Though netting a variety of A-list Hollywood stars to headline his increasingly visible ventures (Reese Witherspoon in Devil’s Knot, 2013; Ryan Reynolds in The Captive, 2014), Egoyan’s most prolific period (as far as output) compares poorly to the precedent established with his 1996 calling card, The Sweet Hereafter. Many would argue his 2015 title, Remember, is another such failed project, premiering as a Gala Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival before US distributor rolled out in a limited theatrical release in March of 2016 (where it brought in over a million at the box office. Gimmicky and arguably exploitational, a lead performance from Christopher Plummer manages to make this problematic feature a bit more palatable than expected.

Following the death of his wife, widower Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) is goaded to fulfill a complicated scheme he’s concocted with friend Max Zucker (Martin Landau), who resides in the same nursing home. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Zev’s time is quickly running out, but he takes a highly detailed letter written by Max as he disappears from the home to find the Auschwitz prison guard responsible for murdering his family nearly sixty years prior. His target is now living under the assumed identity Rudy Kurlander, and Zev visits four possible suspects to determine which one is responsible and relieve his decades-long wrath. But Zev makes some startling surprises on his way to obtaining vengeance.

Despite several hard to swallow bits, including Egoyan’s signature flourishes of precocious children and/or willowy young women articulating bits of perniciously stagey dialogue, Remember is sometimes persuasively good, particularly for a fantastic lead performance from Christopher Plummer. The Oscar winning thespian is well cast, especially considering his filmography straddling both sides of the Nazi menace (The Sound of Music; Inside Man), but the prominent casting of Martin Landau, in what often seems a surprisingly throwaway turn, actually assists in neutering the film’s grand bombshell. A brief stop off with Bruno Ganz (otherwise wasted) as the first suspected SS leader also strengthens the film’s resemblance to Wim Wenders’ early road films with a Hitchcockian dash of identity crisis.

Heinz Lieven plays the second target, but ends up being a gay Jewish man on his deathbed (oddly, Lieven was also in another problematic Nazi-hunting film, Paolo Sorrentino’s 2011 film, This Must Be the Place), while the fourth and last Rudy Kurlander is none other than the villainous Jurgen Prochnow (another actor in his fair share of WWII themed titles). As Plummer’s pained, somewhat aggravated son, Henry Czerny is on hand to show mild concern.

To those with a cynical outlook, Remember feels unforgivably maudlin—nearly every unrelated supporting character seems ripped from the cliché rack of good or bad constitution, with “Breaking Bad” actor Dean Norris inhabiting a cartoonish second generation Nazi (whose modern equivalent is an officer of the law) in a sequence with chilling potential (such as Plummer’s anxiety at his ferocious, barking dog). The continual return to Landau’s detailed letter might also recall Christopher Nolan’s now seminal narrative mindfuck, Memento (2000), but Egoyan’s methodical approach sometimes seems maddeningly trite, honing in on Plummer’s Zev to create a compromised psychological portrait, only to be completely undone by its unnecessary twist (even then, what could’ve have a deliberately morbid ending is also ruined by a final explanation sequence just to make sure no one misunderstands anything obvious).

The film’s mawkish tendencies create an uneasy pallor of insensitivity concerning its subjects, kind of like the melodramatically unsound adaptation of Sarah’s Key (2010). Still, there’s enough to salvage here, and Remember recalls those juicy film noir era titles which were directly informed by WWII atrocities, like Robert Wise’s The House of Telegraph Hill (1951) or J. Lee Thompson’s Return from the Ashes (1965).

Disc Review:

DP Paul Sarossy goes for sunny-side up north and south of the Canadian border, which enhances the square narrative, like the slightly more thrilling version of Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice (2014). Still, the transfer seems fine in this HD presentation, widescreen 1.78:1 with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Egoyan, along with producer Robert Lantos and screenwriter Benjamin August, provides optional audio commentary.

Performances to Remember:
This seventeen minute feature is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and finds cast and crew discussing the origins of the story and their desire to make the film.

A Tapestry of Evil – Remembering the Past:
This fourteen minute segment finds screenwriter Benjamin August relating his interest in writing a film about escaped Nazi war criminals. Holocaust scholars comment on the Nazi philosophy in this brief documentary paraphrasing the atrocities of the war to predicate the origination of Egoyan’s film.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a nugget of something provocative in Remember, which could have seemed a lot more logical had it taken place at least two decades earlier and without the nonsensical memory tricks. Still, those with forgiving attitudes for salty revenge thrillers might enjoy this nicely dressed B-movie offering.

Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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