Hit-and-miss director Atom Egoyan has proven he can handle a surprise ending. In his successful movies (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Felicia’s Journey”), he sustains the slow burn necessary to carry the final reveal, and in the process practically forcing his characters, who are often the traffickers of debilitating secrets, to expose themselves in tortured dribs and drabs throughout the course of the movie.
Egoyan’s latest release, a one-trick pony, lamentably sacrifices character and story in its singular drive to reveal the final twist, which should be obvious to any viewer familiar in the ways of cinematic tropes. But this may not be entirely the director’s fault. The screenplay, written by newcomer Benjamin August, whose most substantial previous credit is as casting director for reality stunt show “Fear Factor,” is a tedious, strictly linear affair; more hell-bent on racing from scene to scene, alternating between briefly introducing thin characters and spending entirely too much time with over-the-top stereotypes—who other than a neo-Nazi names their Alsatian Eva?—than exploring situations or character.
This failing could be August’s way of disguising the flimsy premise of his story. Any rigorous investigation of the narrative reveals implausibility to a perplexing degree. In what can only be a purposeful attempt at imitating Christopher Nolan’s 2000 thriller “Memento,” which relied entirely on short-term memory loss for its plot, the script imagines a type of dementia selective in both its timing and substance as its device of choice.
Storied actor Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of Zev Guttman, a purported survivor of Auschwitz, is the sole source of credence in the movie. However, Zev’s indeterminate affliction, which causes him to wake up disoriented to certain facts of his life while others remain steadfast, is convenient, yes, but also problematic. That he is then sent on an assassin’s errand, with only a letter to remind him of his mission, is fundamentally flawed. Anyone who had the misfortune to see Julianne Moore caught in her character’s loop of a suicide mission in Still Alice will be particularly sensitive to this paradox.
Stranger still is Egoyan’s decision to allow the road trip to proceed directly and chronologically, without the benefit of flashback or any other tricks of the editing trade. If anything, these could have provided a better way into Zev’s inner life.
Behind Max’s mission is the wheelchair- and oxygen-dependent, Max (Martin Landau), an Auschwitz survivor who from the confines of his room at the nursing home where he lives next to Max, uses his research skills to hunt Nazis. This Svengali, aided by Landau’s dark, menacing eyebrows, which were on fleek before on fleek was a thing, and his machinations, particularly his grooming of Zev, should have not been relegated to the cheap, tacked-on ending. They should have been the entire movie.