Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) awakens to wonder where his wife is, he could have sworn she was there before he went to sleep, but now there is no sign of her. And where is he anyway? He does not recognise this room, so gets out of bed and walks to the door to see a reception nearby; on asking questions, he is informed that his wife died a couple of weeks ago, and this retirement home is where he lives now, so he can be better looked after as he drifts into senile dementia. This is not what he wanted to hear, but what can he do? There is one task his fellow patient Max (Martin Landau) proposes to him, and gives him a letter during the ceremony to commemorate Zev's late wife that sets out clear instructions - for murder.
Atom Egoyan was a director who made his name crafting austere and difficult drama that was widely ignored by the vast majority of moviegoers, but amassed a following of those who found his purposefully depressing (because that's authentic, man) efforts bracing and thought provoking. However, as he moved into the twenty-first century, his work began to take on a different look when his style appeared to coarsen, or at least was applied to less classily downbeat material that the cognoscenti could congratulate themselves over having appreciated. Remember was one of those which seemed to be taking him back to his roots, yet once it had turned into a thriller was leading up to a twist that was nothing short of preposterous.
Egoyan had not written the script this time around, that duty went to Benjamin August, which used the unimaginable horror of the death camps at Auschwitz as a jumping off point for what turned out to be a rather implausible suspense piece, itself skating on very thin ice of taste that the film crashed through come the last five minutes. Zev, we are told, was a survivor of that camp, where all his family were executed way back in the Second World War, and Max suffered that atrocity as well, so what he had to be constantly reminded of via the letter and phone calls to his friend is that he is now on a mission to put the man who ordered these deaths to death himself. Trouble with that being there is more than one candidate for who that could be.
This evildoer moved from Germany to North America after the war was over, and conveniently for the plot there has never been enough evidence to connect him with the camp. But Max recalls him all too well (so why was this witness testimony not used? One of the plot holes there) and tells Zev that as long as he follows the plan, he will recognise this man, now living under an alias, and be able to kill him with the newly bought pistol he has been instructed to get (which he picks up straight away, over the counter without any paperwork or background checks). While this is happening, his son (Henry Czerny) is at his wits' end hoping that his father is all right after effectively disappearing from the home, but Zev has no opportunity to be sentimental, at his age he is well aware time is running out.
As absurd as this was, it was by no means unenjoyable, mainly thanks to Plummer's committed performance as he and Egoyan built up a convincing portrayal of a man whose mind was slipping away from him, no matter that this was largely fumbled when mounted in a daft thriller plot. There was a scene when Zev arrives to try another candidate in the middle of nowhere to find the man died a few weeks before, but is invited in by his son (Dean Norris), a cop who is revealed as a neo-Nazi, just rub salt into Zev's psychological wounds. This stretch of the narrative was actually very well presented, and pointed to the way the creative team should have embraced their inner exploitation movie fan more often in the course of Remember; perhaps it was two old pros in Plummer and Norris finding just the correct tone, but it was the highlight. As for that eventual twist where we discover what has been going on, it undid all that sincere work and examination of guilt and memory for the sake of ludicrous melodrama. That said, if you liked ludicrous melodrama, and it has its appeal, then you may well be entertained. Music by Mychael Danna.