Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film available at Redbox or VOD. This month the second review is of a TV series available on VOD. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
Once upon a time, Atom Egoyan was the next big director. His early films Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997) had a poetry and lyricism that reminded many of the great European art-house directors of the ’50s and ’60s. He seemed destined to be a directing star. Destiny did not smile on Egoyan, however, and he ended up floundering for the past few decades with films that did not seem to meet the potential of his two early films.
What better way to get back in the game than pair with brilliant and legendary actors Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau? Working with a script from first-time writer Benjamin Austin, Plummer and Landau play two Auschwitz survivors living out their 90s in an American nursing home. Plummer’s Zev Guttman has worsening dementia but still agrees to a plan hatched by Landau’s Max Rosenbaum to find the German SS officer who worked at the camp and then emigrated to the U.S. under one of his victim’s names. Rosenbaum gives Guttman a list of everyone in the U.S. with that name, and Guttman proceeds to crisscross the country in an effort to find the man. What follows is not just inspiring acting but also an in-depth character study of everyone Guttman meets. Plummer’s performance is particularly good as he struggles through his disease but is still fueled by the bitter taste of revenge just ahead of him.
Henry Czerny plays Rosenbaum’s son, chasing his father around the country as his father tries to find the SS officer. The study of an elderly man stricken with dementia will hit home to anyone who has dealt with such a situation. It is not easy, and the film does not make it so. Every one of the secondary characters are well drawn, and Czerny’s character particularly so.
Another great performance comes from Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris in a tense and well-plotted sequence that builds in tension and hits all the right notes. The subtext of the entire film is particularly melancholic: as the last of the Holocaust survivors die off, we still need to hold onto their memories and stories.
What the film lacks in technical achievement, it makes up for in story and acting. Shot on a very small budget, the film gets the most out of what it does have. And it makes one wonder where Egoyan has been all these years and where that wonderful early promise went. Here’s hoping that Remember is his springboard to more great films and the fulfillment of that promise.
Opened March 25 at the Sie Film Center, and available on demand soon. You will like this film if you liked Still Alice, The Pianist, and/or Ida.
Close-ups that linger. Long shots of a character studying the landscape that hold for long takes. Strange metaphysical occurrences and intermittent spirituality. Round characters with interesting, and conflicting, depth.
Sounds like a Bergman, Fellini, or Antonioni film, but these are all aspects of the latest TV series from the Sundance channel, Rectify. This show is another step forward in the “Slow TV” movement that draws a line from The Sopranos to Mad Men to Breaking Bad to the stellar crop of current entrants. These shows have come a long way in a short time and Rectify carries the art-house aspects even further. It is one of the best new series to grace the small screen since some of the aforementioned early trailblazers.
The show stars Aden Young as Daniel Holden, a man recently released from prison after being on death row for 20 years. DNA evidence helped release him, but many in the town—including the former prosecutor and the current sheriff—have their doubts about his innocence. If Young is the pulse of the film (alternately slow and thoughtful and then wild and unpredictable), then Abigail Spencer as his sister Amantha is the heartbeat of the show (alternately loving and sweet and then just as quickly, a “box of firecrackers” as one character describes her). The secondary characters are all excellent, creating whole and real characters in very short order.
The action takes place in fictional small town Georgia, and that small-town south plays a part in the action—many times in wonderfully unexpected ways. Characters surprise and uniquely interact as we find ourselves constantly changing our alliances and identifications. The show can be as poetic as one of the many subtle sunrises and as brutal as a bar fight. Along the way, the show pulses with multiple underlying themes such as the politics of the criminal justice system, small-town dynamics, the role of religion in our lives, and of course, the family dynamic. Go for the binge.
Seasons 1 & 2 are available on Netflix. Season 3 is coming soon, and Season 4 starts this fall on the Sundance Channel. You will like this show if you liked Top of the Lake, Breaking Bad, and/or Mad Men.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at MSU Denver.