Once-respected Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s latest, Remember, ends with a “twist” of such stunning bad taste that it retroactively makes the entire film offensive instead of merely dull. I won’t spoil it here because I’d rather that if you decide for some reason to sit through this flat, clumsy, daft thriller that you, too, be rewarded with the staggering surprise to come.
The plot is too dumb to explicate in full, so here: Christopher Plummer, screen veteran and an actor of tremendous sensitivity, plays a dementia-stricken Holocaust survivor on a mission to kill the SS block commander from his time at Auschwitz. The commander changed his name upon entering the US after the war, which leaves four potential candidates of the right age and ethnicity peppered around the country. Plummer’s quest takes him through a lot of Holiday Inn Express rooms, in between trips to and fro via train, bus, and taxi. The mise-en-scene could reasonably be called “budget chic” — this is not an attractive movie in any sense. The majority of its budget (after casting) appears to have gone into a single gloopy headshot, complete with dripping brain matter and blown-out skull.
Egoyan, always a restrained director, has fallen into anonymous hackwork: 90 percent of Remember is composed of functional, stodgy medium shots. There’s one standout image, shot through a waterfall as Plummer dips his hand through it, the water blurring the entire frame in a tidy visual metaphor. However, this scene is also set in the lobby of a fucking Holiday Inn Express.
Revenge movies are cinematic red meat; everyone from Ingmar Bergman to Jaume Collet-Serra has tucked into a good cycle-of-violence tale at one point or another. Egoyan, however, evinces zero excitement at the prospect of a genre workout: Not even the howlingly pulpy climax has any impact. Despite the presence of a loaded gun, it has none of the gutpunch potency that concludes Christian Petzold’s 2014 Phoenix (incidentally, another film about the lingering trauma of the Holocaust and a better one in every possible respect.)
Remember isn’t about the Holocaust so much as it attempts to leech gravitas off the Holocaust. Despite Plummer and a handful of other powerful male actors like Jurgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz, and Martin Landau, neither Egoyan nor first-time screenwriter Benjamin August are able to step up and provide them any material worth acting. None of the juicy concepts at play, from dementia to trauma to revenge, feel like anything more than hollow gimmicks deployed to distract viewers. Johnnie To’s 2009 amnesiac thriller Vengeance had more emotional kick, and that was a movie where guys used hay bales as cover from gunfire.
If you find the twist that concludes Remember (along with its attendant explanation by a secondary character) powerful, thought-provoking, enriching, or in any way a boon to the film as a whole, I’m not sure what to say to you. The movie is nowhere near lurid enough to justify such an absurd capper, and neither is it psychologically incisive enough to truly sell it. We’re left with a lumpy, exploitative (and not in the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS way), and truly shallow piece of work that hopes to attain seriousness simply by standing sort of close to one of the 20th century’s many massive human tragedies.
Remember the Holocaust, sure, but forget this shit.