We had to go see Remember the next day (after The First Monday In May) because, despite it being a pretty packed house for every show, it was going to close that week. The reviews were positive but far from unanimous (71% critic, 78% audience on Rotten Tomatoes), but the longer it hung around the more interesting it got to me. I was jokingly referring to it as “The Last Nazi Picture Show” because we are at the point where the youngest Nazis are in their ’90s, and hunting them becomes a sadder exercise than one generally wishes to see in a film.
But then I realized all the principles are actually already too young to have played significant roles in WWII, with Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau being teens (but under 18) by the war’s end, and the rest of the (older) cast being born during the war.
So I guess we can keep on making Nazi Movie Magic.
Anyway, this film is, believe it or not, a thriller. Obviously, it’s a drama as well, but while some found it depressing, I felt it really drove home the entertainment aspects of the story and didn’t get bogged down in the message. (Which, I guess, would be something like “Nazis are bad. I mean, like, really bad. You may think your boss sucks, but that’s just peanuts compared to Nazis.”)
The story is this: Christopher Plummer plays Zev. He lives in a home, and wakes up every morning wondering where his wife is. His wife has recently died, as he must be reminded, and he is done sitting shiva, finally. That’s when nursing home pal Max (Martin Landau) reminds him that they made a deal. You see, Zev and Max’s families were killed in the camps during World War II, and one of the camp guards by the name of Rudy Kurlander snuck into America on the basis of (apparently) “No, I wasn’t a Nazi. That was some other Rudy Kurlander.”
Honestly, I don’t think we had great records of who did what to whom. The Germans did a good job of destroying that stuff.
Max is too crippled to go himself, but he’s mapped out all four Rudy Kurlanders in America and Canada who might conceivably be the guy they want to exact their revenge on. And thus we go on a sort of road trip as nonagenarian, senile Zev goes out to murder a guy who wronged him 70 years ago. Only instead of buddying up with new folks he meets, he murders them. Sort of like a Jewish Terminator.
Actually, there’s not that much violence, especially for a revenge picture.
Which means, when there is, it tends to be very shocking.
As we’ve seen in recent years, there aren’t a lot of 80-something actors who can carry movies, but Christopher Plummer is one of them. The Man In The Chair—well, I guess he was still in his ’70s back then, and he had probably just turned 80 in Beginners, but he actually carries those films less than this one, where he is on screen in (I think) every scene. (Martin Landau literally but not metaphorically phones in his performance, as he mostly guides Plummer’s character from the assisted living home.)
Lotta twists and turns. Lotta old, senile guys buying deadly weapons. (OK, only one old, senile guy buying one gun, but it seems like a lot.) Some Canada-Fu.
This is one of those movies where, when they get to the final scene, I thought, “How are they going to get out of this one?” Seeing an old man murder another old man for crimes committed 70 years ago strikes me as a bitter thing. But can he just let the guy go? I mean, I was prepared to like the movie almost regardless of what happened at the end, because it had been a good ride—and serious props to director Atom Egoyan, who was kind of a critic’s darling in the ’90s but less luminous in the ’00s, and freshman screenwriter Benjamin August for pulling it off.
The ending—it makes a lot of sense. Though it raises a lot of questions as well. Neither The Boy or I saw it coming. Because even as it is supported by the rest of the movie, it’s also sort of preposterous, or seems to be, at least on a literal level. As a metaphor and as art, it works perfectly.
We’d rank it among the best movies of the year so far.