A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Atom Egoyan's revenge thriller "Remember" has such a compelling premise and an accomplished cast that it's a shame it doesn't add up to more. Christopher Plummer, still imposing at 86, plays Zev Guttman, a concentration camp survivor who lost his family in World War II to a sadistic Blockführer known as Kurlander, and is now living in a retirement home in New York City. Spurred on by his more frail friend Max (Martin Landau), who informs Zev that the guard is still around and living under an assumed name, he sets off in search of the elusive Kurlander, determined to avenge the great trauma of his life.
There are a number of problems with the hero's quest, though, aside from the obvious question of whether two wrongs can make a right. For one thing, Zev is a grieving, at times almost emotionally catatonic-seeming widower who's suffering from what appears to be Alzheimer's (although Egoyan's script never quite comes out and tells us what his issue is medically—it's a King Lear-like "affliction"). For another, neither Zev nor the viewers know for certain if Kurlander is really alive or if this tidbit is something dreamed up by Max, who's played by a Landau as an accusing specter who appears to be compensating for his own obvious decline and fear of death by offloading his issues on his a physically capable friend (Max's loved ones were killed by the same guard at Auschwitz). Finally, Max's information is incomplete: we're told that there is a Kurlander, but nobody knows if it's the Kurlander. Which means Guttman is in the position of becoming a mentally-addled human version of the title character in the first "Terminator" film: an assassin that set about killing every Sarah Connor in Los Angeles to make sure he eventually got the right one.
From such early classics as "Speaking Parts" and "The Adjuster" through his 1997 masterpiece "The Sweet Hereafter" and more obviously pulpy projects like "Where the Truth Lies" and "Devil's Knot," Egoyan has always been fascinated by the psychic weight of accumulated time, the elusiveness of justice, and the unreliability of memory. He often fractures his movies into narrative mosaics, flashing back and forth through time and into and out of subjective mental states, so that past and present seem to be occurring on top of each other and we don't always know what we're looking at or what it means.
He keeps the structural gamesmanship to a minimum in "Remember," embodying most of the story's instability in Plummer's performance. Is this the right strategy for a tale of pain, revenge and elusive truth, though? Perhaps not. The movie is not pulpy or emotional enough to work as a character study, nor clever and mysterious enough to succeed as a formal puzzle or a grand statement.