A shaky premise meets a shaky protagonist in “Remember.”
The protagonist is Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor with dementia living in a nursing home.
The premise is that he’s been dispatched on a cross-country mission to assassinate a former Nazi camp guard who has been living in North America under an assumed name since the end of World War II.
The performances, particularly Plummer’s, are sterling. With halting steps and the manner of a man intermittently losing connection with the world around him, then desperately trying to reclaim that connection, Plummer makes Zev a vulnerable, sympathetic figure.
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But that premise is hard to swallow.
Zev is a man who repeatedly forgets that his wife of many decades has just died, calling for her upon awakening and at other times. The idea that an individual in such a fragile mental state could, by himself, negotiate all the hurdles director Atom Egoyan and screenwriter Benjamin August place in his path — purchasing a pistol, crossing the border from the United States to Canada and back again with that pistol, finding his way to lodgings and buses and taxi cabs — seems a stretch. His forgetfulness is a very selective thing, manipulated by the filmmakers to keep the story humming along.
Now it’s true he’s following a set of precise written instructions prepared by a fellow nursing-home resident named Max (Martin Landau), also an Auschwitz survivor now in a wheelchair. Zev is his puppet, a remotely controlled assassin. The kill scheme is Max’s attempt to settle scores with the Nazi before Father Time renders the mission moot.
A further complication is the fact that Max’s research has turned up four suspects with the name assumed by the camp guard, all of whom Zev is tasked to find and determine who among them is the true quarry.
The picture has points to make regarding lax gun laws in the U.S., particularly in a scene in which a gun-store owner sells the obviously impaired Zev a pistol (but hey, the old man is not in any database).
A jolting plot twist gives “Remember” a powerful sting in its tail, but even it is undercut by the improbability of the too-convenient selectivity of Zev’s faulty memory.
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Jurgen Prochnow, Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz.
Director: Atom Egoyan.
Running time: 1:35.
Rated: R, for a sequence of violence and language.