There must be a day of reckoning and it can’t be left up to fate. That’s the premise of this extremely inventive geriatric revenge movie, which is the brainchild of casting director turned screenwriter Benjamin August. His ingenious script weaves together senior citizens, Holocaust survivors, onset Alzheimer’s and a trail of death into a drama/mystery/thriller. It’s a highly unlikely, puzzling storyline that’s hard to imagine until you get dragged into its addictive suspense.
Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer) wakes up in a New York nursing home disorientated, barely remembering who he is or where he came from. A fellow patient, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) who is wheelchair-bound, reminds him that he is a Holocaust survivor, his wife recently died, and on her deathbed he promised to track down and kill the former Nazi commander who murdered his and Max’s families at Auschwitz.
It’s a lot for the 90-year-old to absorb, so Max has written Zev a letter, with the details of his assignment and provided money and provisions for the sojourn. The culprit, who immigrated to North America, is living under the alias of “Rudy Kurlander.” Max has narrowed the field down to four possible candidates, living in four different regions: California, Canada, Idaho or Ohio. With no more than a valise, a prayer of a chance of success and dementia wearing him down daily, Zev sets off on a multi-country, interstate journey of vengeance.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan, known for very erotic (The Adjuster), nonlinear (Exotica) and esoteric filmmaking, doesn’t seem like he’d be the right person to breath life into this very intimate script. However, Egoyan breaks out of his one-dimensional, non-emotional mold to convey the anger, fear, sadness and disorientation the central character feels. Somehow he finds a way to make the story feel and look very ordinary, as if it could happen, though it never did.
Egoyan’s understated efforts are helped by Paul Sarossy’s (Exotica) very simple cinematography, which makes the footage look like it was shot on a smartphone with available light (exteriors) or a bright light bulb (interiors). The wardrobe (Debra Hanson) could have been stolen from Goodwill. The production design (Matthew Davies, Hannibal) and set decoration (Danny Burke) are frugal and plain. All contribute to making what’s on view look stark and real.
The gift of August’s affecting screenplay is that it unfolds in layers that are not fathomable, from scene to scene. Zev’s memory is so shot full of holes that it’s like watching a senior citizen walk on to the set of Groundhog Day, unaware. Still, as Zev plods through, hunting down the right Rudy with the intent on exacting justice, his journey gets weirder, scarier and more brutal in ways that are so matter of fact you can’t believe what you are watching.
Heading the ensemble cast is Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners) who is only getting better with age. His Zev doesn’t have to scream “I’m lost and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” it’s on Plummer’s face, in his trembling body, stammer and very unsteady gate. Landau plays Max like a cunning, supportive yet feeble mastermind. Legendary German actor Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot), veteran Swiss actor Bruno Gantz (The Boys From Brazil) and American actor Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) add their strong performances.
Once Remember begins to unfold, the astonishment of watching an elderly man, who is losing his memory minute-by-minute, become a one-man Nazi hunter is intoxicating.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.