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Film Review: 'Remember'

It’s hard to imagine an almost 90-year-old nursing home resident with dementia embarking on a solo cross-continent journey in search of revenge. But that’s exactly what Zev Gutman, played by Academy Award-nominee Christopher Plummer, does in director Atom Egoyan’s unusual Canadian suspense film, Remember.

German-born Zev is a recently-widowed Auschwitz survivor who agrees to undertake a challenging mission concocted by his fellow resident, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau). Max was at Auschwitz at the same time as Zev. He’s tracked down four men named Rudy Kurlander, one of whom is the Nazi guard responsible for slaughtering both his and Zev’s families.

Too ill to travel himself, Max enlists Zev to visit each Rudy, identify the guilty one, and get justice by killing him. To help his sometimes confused and forgetful friend carry out his plot, Max provides Zev with a lengthy letter containing detailed instructions for each leg of the trip. He also takes care of most of Zev’s travel arrangements and supplies him with an envelope stuffed with cash. After a small family gathering to honor his dead wife, Zev walks out of his nursing home in the middle of the night to catch a train bound for Cleveland where the first Rudy lives.

Plummer gives a low-key, believable performance as Zev. His memory lapses feel real and he exudes a quiet dignity, gentleness and determination to fulfill his goal that makes you root for him when he begins his quest. With the exception of his final destination, most of the places Zev visits on his trip are dreary and depressing: dilapidated, junk-filled houses; another nursing home; strip malls and bland hotels. The locales add to the lonely and foreboding mood of Zev’s journey. Egoyan also throws in occasional details that remind Zev of his Nazi prison camp days. Some, like steam wafting up from his bath in a hotel room, are subtle and work well. Others, such as the air raid-like sirens that wail non-stop at a construction zone near the remote home of one of the Rudy’s, feel heavy-handed.

Remember unfolds at a pace that holds your attention. Egoyan creates suspense that simmers rather than boils, but is still satisfying. Vaguely sinister background music playing at key moments helps turns up the tension.

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Remember’s biggest weakness is that much of what happens seems implausible. From Zev leaving his nursing home--without anyone noticing or stopping him-- and being able to stick with a complicated plan that requires him to travel by bus, train and taxi across the Canadian border and back, is hard to swallow. Even with Max’s letter to guide Zev, it’s difficult to believe that a frail, often confused old man with dementia could follow his friend’s instructions. Or avoid losing the letter. Some of Zev’s encounters with the different Rudys also don’t ring true, especially one that takes a disastrous turn.

Remember’s shocking ending is perhaps the most contrived part of the film. It definitely comes as a surprise. But whether it will leave you satisfied, or just feeling conned, is up for debate.

Remember is now playing in San Francisco.