'Remember': Venice Review

Christopher Plummer plays an enfeebled widower on the present-day trail of the Auschwitz commander he believes slaughtered his family in Atom Egoyan's latest.

A geriatric revenge fantasy so increasingly preposterous that it trivializes both the pain of surviving Holocaust victims and the debate over how best to serve justice with war criminals, Remember is mildly elevated by the pathos of Christopher Plummer's performance as an elderly man drifting in and out of the disorienting fog of dementia. Continuing the sad slump in Atom Egoyan's career after last year’s The Captive, this plodding new drama is perhaps a shade or two less risible. But first-time screenwriter Benjamin August certainly gives it the old college try, fabricating a plot with holes so big you could drive a panzer through them.

Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a freshly widowed nonagenarian in an assisted-living facility not far from New York. On the final night of sitting shiva for his wife, Ruth, Zev is pulled aside by fellow resident Max (Martin Landau), who hands him a fat envelope full of cash and detailed instructions for a plan Zev promised in more lucid times to carry out after Ruth's death.

Less physically able than Zev, Max is confined to a wheelchair and permanently hooked up to an oxygen supply, but he has worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to trace four Germans living in North America under the assumed name of Rudy Kurlander. He's convinced that one of them is the Auschwitz prison block commander who murdered both Max's and Zev's families 70 years earlier, and up to now has evaded justice.

With irascible dignity, Plummer conveys Zev's pride as he attempts to brush off moments of confusion. But in truth, he tends to wake even from the briefest nap unsure of where he is or why Ruth isn't at his side. And yet, in the elastic logic of August's script, Zev slips undetected out of the home and embarks on a cross-continent journey using Max's cheat sheet to guide him through his frequent lapses in clarity. Anyone with even passing experience of dementia patients will be rolling their eyes at the unlikelihood of Zev summoning such resources of energy and focus.

It helps that this is a Canadian movie, so just about everyone's really, really nice. From a concerned kid on a Cleveland-bound train to a gun store salesman who sets Zev up with a Glock, from hotel staff to an Idaho mall clerk offering "a great deal on short-sleeve button-downs" (to better display that prisoner number tattoo)  — everyone's incredibly sweet and patient with the befuddled old man. A U.S.-Canada border customs and immigration officer even lets him cross with an expired passport. And in a pandering nod to the gun control debate, a store detective who finds Zev's weapon sends him on his way with a warm smile, saying, "Reminds me of my first gun."

All this makes the film hard enough to take seriously as Zev checks off each wrong guy on his trail. Bruno Ganz makes minimal impact as the first of them, and Heinz Lieven is the second, that encounter yielding some shameless mawkishness. Reflections in August's script on the horrors of the Holocaust seldom go deep for characters on either side of that shameful chapter in history.

Where Remember takes an irreversible tumble into the ridiculous is when Zev ambles up to the home of Rudy #3, encountering the man's state trooper son (Dean Norris, so very good in Breaking Bad, so very bad here) and his savage pet German Shepherd. It's inconceivable that even this dumb jerk would be so imprudent about showing off dad's collection of Nazi memorabilia to a complete stranger, and the character is an insult to racist rednecks.

While Zev leaves a trail of clues like breadcrumbs behind him, the efforts of his anxious son Charles (Henry Czerny) to track down the fugitive take a week to bear fruit. He finally catches up with the old man at the Lake Tahoe cottage where the last Rudy on the list (Jurgen Prochnow) lives with his family, nestled among the tranquil pines. But Czerny's recent reign as ruthless patriarch Conrad Grayson on ABC's campy nighttime soap Revenge is not the only reason this final showdown plays like high melodrama, right down to the Big Twist.

There's little sense of personal investment from the director, but Egoyan does what he can to keep the story moving forward, without getting bogged down in its implausibilities, which are too many to count. He plasters on Mychael Danna's nobly mournful score with overpowering insistence, but the undistinguished-looking film's few genuinely affecting moments are due to Plummer's skill at conveying the solitude and fear of a man confronted with the incontrovertible evidence of his diminished faculties. The veteran actor deserves better than this pseudo-serious pulp.

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Dean Norris, Henry Czerny
Production companies: Serendipity Point Films, in association with Distant Horizon, Detalle, Egoli Tossell Films, Telefilm Canada
Director: Atom Egoyan
Screenwriter: Benjamin August
Producers: Robert Lantos, Ari Lantos
Executive producers: Mark Musselman, Anant Singh, Moises Cosio, Jeff Sagansky, D. Matt Geller, Lawrence Guterman, Michael Porter
Director of photography: Paul Sarossy
Production designer: Matthew Davies
Costume designer: Debra Hanson
Music: Mychael Danna
Editor: Christopher Donaldson
Casting: John Buchan, Jason Knight
Sales: IM Global

No rating, 95 minutes