David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Re­mem­ber (MA15+) Lim­ited re­lease Green Room (MA15+) Lim­ited re­lease

The legacy of the Holo­caust still casts a long shadow and an at­tempt to find a fresh ap­proach to the sub­ject is made in Cana­dian direc­tor Atom Egoyan’s Re­mem­ber, an­other un­even of­fer­ing from the direc­tor who once gave us such gems as Ex­ot­ica (1994) and The Sweet Here­after (1997). The film, based on an orig­i­nal screen­play by Ben­jamin Au­gust, cen­tres on the char­ac­ter of Zev Guttman, su­perbly played by Christo­pher Plum­mer. Zev is a 90-year-old Ger­man-Amer­i­can who has been liv­ing in a home for the el­derly in New York City since the death of his wife. He is suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia, and his con­di­tion is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing by the day, but he’s still phys­i­cally ac­tive and not con­fined to his bed.

The same can’t be said for his friend, Max Rosen­baum (Martin Lan­dau), an­other res­i­dent of the home, who is con­fined to a wheel­chair. Max and Zev are con­tem­po­raries, and both of them are sur­vivors of Auschwitz. Max is ob­sessed with the thought that one of the se­nior guards at the con­cen­tra­tion camp has sur­vived and is liv­ing some­where in North Amer­ica. Us­ing the in­ter­net, Max has in­ves­ti­gated the where­abouts of the man, Otto Walisch, who now calls him­self Rudy Kur­lan­der. But there are four pos­si­ble men with that name, all of them about the right age, who live, re­spec­tively, in Cleveland, Ohio; Boise, Idaho; and lo­ca­tions in Canada and Cal­i­for­nia.

Un­able to carry out the search for Kur­lan­der him­self, Max spends all his time pre­par­ing Zev to track down the mon­ster, giv­ing his friend de­tailed writ­ten in­struc­tions, even though Zev’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion means that un­usual ef­forts have to be de­vised to keep him mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of his goal. These plot de­vel­op­ments are strik­ingly sim­i­lar to those fea­tured in Christo­pher Nolan’s Me­mento (2000) in which Guy Pearce was the man with short-term mem­ory loss.

A scene in which Zev fol­lows Max’s in­struc­tions and ac­quires a gun is a grim tes­ta­ment to the ease with which sales of lethal weapons are car­ried out in Amer­ica. While Zev doggedly fol­lows Max’s in­struc­tions, his son Charles (Henry Cz­erny) be­comes un­der­stand­ably con­cerned about what has hap­pened to his fa­ther.

What fol­lows is an un­de­ni­ably in­trigu­ing but in­creas­ingly im­plau­si­ble sus­pense film as Zev finds him­self vis­it­ing the homes of the sus­pects (with Bruno Ganz and Jur­gen Prochnow ap­pear­ing as two of them) while not be­ing en­tirely clear about his mis­sion. A se­quence in which he dis­cov­ers that one of the sus­pects is dead but that his son (Dean Nor­ris), a po­lice­man, is a ded­i­cated neo-Nazi is gen­uinely chill­ing.

But even­tu­ally the twists and turns in Au­gust’s screen­play threaten to trans­form a se­ri­ous sub­ject into a cheap, melo­dra­matic thriller and Egoyan seems un­able to mod­ify the in­creas­ingly un­con­vinc­ing sce­nario. The film thus could be ac­cused of cheap­en­ing and di­min­ish­ing an im­por­tant sub­ject.

De­spite its flaws, though, the film has its pos­i­tive as­pects. As noted, Plum­mer gives one of his finest re­cent per­for­mances in the lead­ing role, con­vinc­ingly play­ing the part of a man des­per­ately try­ing to re­mem­ber his dan­ger­ous mis­sion and fight­ing to stay sane in in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. A strong sup­port­ing cast also does good work, and the film — as is the case of all Egoyan’s films — is made with smooth pro­fes­sion­al­ism. It’s a pity that it in­creas­ingly strays into the di­rec­tion of al­most laugh­able im­prob­a­bil­ity. Jeremy Saulnier is a young in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can direc­tor of thrillers. Al­though so far his films haven’t made a great im­pact in com­mer­cial terms, he has gained plenty of at­ten­tion else­where; his sec­ond fea­ture, Blue Ruin, was se­lected for the pres­ti­gious Crit­ics Week sec­tion at Cannes in 2013 and was favourably re­ceived; last year Green Room was picked for the Di­rec­tors Fort­night at Cannes and, again, found plenty of sup­port­ers among the in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cal fra­ter­nity.

Saulnier cer­tainly knows how to cre­ate sus­pense on screen, and it seems likely that be­fore too long he’ll be work­ing for ma­jor com­pa­nies on gen­er­ous bud­gets. Cre­atively, that may or may not be a good move, be­cause Blue Ruin and Green Room are dis­tin­guished by the skilled way the writer-direc­tor em­ploys all the el­e­ments of his craft to de­pict a seem­ingly sim­ple sit­u­a­tion in which his pro­tag­o­nists face some kind of un­ex­pected threat and then grad­u­ally turns the screws un­til the ten­sion be­comes al­most un­bear­able. Like many of his gen­er­a­tion, he also likes to throw into the mix el­e­ments of bru­tal vi­o­lence, and while this may en­dear him to youn-

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