Ever imagined how the film Memento might play out with a senior citizen as the lead character? Remember attempts to give the unusual concept a try. Interestingly enough, it generally works. This is a modest but effective little thriller that maximizes the anxiety of watching a feeble man make his way through some dangerous situations, and offers some food for thought along with the suspense.
Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer) is an elderly widower living in a nursing home and suffering from dementia and memory loss. One day, he is given a letter by his wheelchair-bound friend Max (Martin Landau) outlining the details of an elaborate plan that he is to carry out. The note informs Zev that he and Max are the only Auschwitz survivors from their cell block that are still living. They have searched tirelessly for the blockfuhrer responsible for the deaths of their family members during the war. Now, the search has narrowed to four men. Since Zev can recognize the target, he must make his way through a list, confirm the identity of the right man and shoot the person dead.
This is Plummer’s movie, ripe with drama and tension for his character. Zev’s faculties are failing and viewers witness the character repeatedly forget where he is and what his mission entails. Of course, each time the confused, nearly 90-year old man pulls out the letter, he also relearns that his wife has passed away. Plummer very successfully recreates the pain of the loss each time in a quiet and understated way, as well as frustration at having to insist to others that he is well and competent (more so than he really is).
He’s got more problems as well. Zev has been reported missing and is on the run. However, he is not agile, nor is he particularly sharp. There are some very tense interactions as he clumsily attempts to make his way from city to city, and even sneak a weapon past customs agents. The screenplay creates even stronger moments of drama as the armed Zev encounters each person on the list and confronts them.
The camera is always relatively still and focuses on the actors – it’s almost as if any action occurs in slow motion due to the seniority of the lead. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking sequence comes when he’s invited into a home by the son of one of the suspects (played by Dean Norris). Without giving too much away, it’s incredibly nerve-racking as the two slowly talk and more information is revealed, in some cases accidentally, about each other.
There are a few minor issues. Ultimately, when all is revealed the plan itself seems a bit convoluted. And on the big screen, the make-up appliance used on one of the elderly characters introduced late in the film isn’t particularly convincing. Frankly, it’s a bit of a distraction, although not enough to detract from the movie’s powerful final sting. The story is unique and compelling enough to carry it through any minor caveats.
Remember may be more subtle and low-key than your garden variety thriller, but it features a strong lead performance, moves along efficiently at a very brisk pace and delivers a few genuinely tense moments. That makes for an effective little film and one that will linger in the brain a good while longer than many others of its ilk.