A film review by Craig J. Koban March 24, 2010

REMEMBER ME zero stars

2010, PG-13, 113 mins.


Tyler: Robert Pattinson / Ally Craig: Emilie de Ravin / Sgt. Neil Craig: Chris Cooper / Diane Hirsch: Lena Olin / Aidan Hall: Tate Ellington / Caroline: Ruby Jerins / Mr. Hawkins: Pierce Brosnan

Directed by Allen Coulter / Written by Will Fetters


I find it next to impossible to discuss my distaste of the following film in any level without revealing the film’s secrets.  So, consider this whole review one with SPOILERS.  You’ve been warned.

It is one thing for a weepy and would-be emotionally charged romantic melodrama to use contrived and artificial plot devices to drive its story to a bleak conclusion, but what REMEMBER ME does is more unpardonable.  

The film begins with a single murder and then concludes with the real life murder of thousands and the manner that it sort of casually uses the reality of one of the most calamitous tragedies of the current century as an excuse to manipulate audience’s emotions is offensive.  Many times I have lamented on how too many romances offer up rosy and tidy endings that ring falsely; REMEMBER ME is anything but rosy and tidy at its end.  Yet, what makes this film’s ending so categorically inexcusable is how misplaced it is: by the time a historical day in recent infamy takes a vice-like grip over the characters, they and their petty dilemmas don’t mean squat anymore. 

911 shadows every waking minute of this film.  It’s inescapable and indefensible.  The opening shot of the film, which has title cards that indicate the time as 1991 and has a nocturnal image of the illuminated, Twin Towered New York skyline, becomes a really obvious and foreboding sign of things to come, especially when the next major scene flash forwards “ten years later” to 2001.  

Then there is a later scene that telegraphs this film’s story agenda with a startling blatancy:  A college lecture in political science class then discusses the nature of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the pre-911 world.  At this point, there is no way to avoid the painfully inevitability that September 11, 2001 will have its way with the main characters, and not only does that fester with predictability (the ending of the film is not as shocking and unpredictable as many critics have pointed out), but is also feels exploitative.  I am sure that the writer of the film (Will Fetters) and its director (Allen Coulter, who made the very underrated crime noir HOLLYWOODLAND) wanted to infuse some profundity into the characters’ arcs and stories, but by the time the 911 is trusted at viewers in the film, I found it really hard to give a damn about the pettiness of these personas.  Their family and social ills become inconsequential, which slighted the entire film leading up to the end.   

The film's prologue does pack an emotional wallop: In 1991 an 11-year old girl named Ally witnesses the brutal murder of her mother by some street thugs at a New York subway terminal.  Her police detective father, Neil Craig (Chris Cooper) comes to the scene to console his daughter and deal with his own grief.  The film fast-forwards to 2001 when we are introduced to 21-year-old Tyler Hawkins (TWILIGHT’s own diamond shimmering teen vamp heartthrob, Robert Pattinson), who is a hopeless rebel without a cause.  He is days away from his 22nd B-day, but he could not be any more introverted, sullen, and melancholy: his older brother committed suicide six years earlier, which has had tragic effects on not only him, but his entire family.  It also has led to an estrangement between Tyler and his Wall Street business tycoon father, Charles (Pierce Brosnon), so much so that he can barely stand the very thought of the man.  His relationship to his mother (Lena Olin) is healthier, as is his relationship to his younger prodigal sister (Ruby Jerins, a child star of surprising naturalness).  Yet, Tyler can’t stomach the way his dad lets his occupational concerns trump his family ones. 

Tyler’s college roommate and buddy, Aidan (Tate Ellington) is sick and tired of Tyler’s moodiness, so he decides to take them both out for a night on the town.  The night ends badly when the pair becomes embroiled in a back alley brawl and it becomes really unpleasant when Tyler gets physical with the head cop on the scene, which happens to be Neil Craig.  His disrespect of the law gets him a pummeled face and a night in jail.  Thankfully, Tyler’s very rich dad gets a near-$500 per hour lawyer to bail out his son.  Tyler, however, is not grateful; he does not want his father helping him out with anything. 

The film then spirals to a series of awkward conveniences.  Aidan insists that Tyler get revenge on this cop for his mistreatment, and he prescribes him to ask out his beautiful daughter, Ally (the lovely Emilie de Ravin from LOST), whom Aidan discovers is the detective's daughter during a day on campus.  Tyler is lukewarm at first, but begrudgingly agrees, and after a pseudo-meet cute the pair do go out on a date and then a romance blossoms between them, all without Ally’s father being none the wiser.  Through a series of events, Ally eventually moves in with Tyler and the more intimate they become the more Tyler opens up about his brother, his intense hatred of his father, his sympathy towards his mother, and his undying love towards his baby sister.  She too opens up about her own dark past.  Alas, as is the case with all other romances based on a bet by two cruel boys, you just know that Allie will discover the link between Tyler and her father, which will lead to a nasty break-up and then the obligatory make-up…and then one of them has a twisted date with destiny in one of the towers on 911. 

REMEMBER ME made me feel both cheap and cheated when I left the theatre.  It’s almost an argument for a dime-a-dozen, mechanically derived romantic conclusion.   What’s truly sad is that there are some very solid performances wasted here by the film's sensationalistic excesses.  Chris Cooper is as fine as ever in a fairly marginal role as the widowed, overprotective cop father, and Emilie de Ravin - with her piercing blue eyes, flawless complexion, and infectious charm - is a major film star in the making; she’s too pristine a screen presence not to have a promising career.  Young Ruby Jerkins also has a bright film career as reflected in her performance as Tyler’s deeply sophisticated sister.  I will get to Pattinson and Brosnan in a minute, but it's disconcerting how some of the film’s good performances feel ultimately squandered by its inexorable backstage date with history.  That, and some of these decent characters are marginalized by the shameless contrivances of the fictional romance set against the backdrop of 911.  I mean, really, anyone with a level head and brain can see precisely where Tyler and Ally’s relationship is heading: it goes from meeting to acquaintance to emotional bonding to intimacy to revelation to break-up and then to make-up and then…yadda…yadda.   

Robert Pattinson – an actor that I have been hard on that also served as Executive Producer here – is a performer that seems (especially in the TWILIGHT films) to let his performances be dictated by his strut, his walk, his sullen eyes, his wooden line readings, and his very famous mane of messy hair.  REMEMBER ME shows very little in the hopes of a developing range with the actor, and he certainly seems to think that this is a film role for him to tap into his inner-James Dean.  Yet, too much of what Pattinson does here is posturing and echoing what Dean did 60 years, which was radical then, but seemingly mannered and stilted now.   In the film Pattinson glowers, squints, snarls, screams, and tries to do everything to evoke classical screen icon rebels without fully fleshy out Tyler as a real character.  To make matters worse, Pattinson’s self-indulgent performance has to occur opposite of Pierce Brosnan, a very undervalued dramatic actor that shows in REMEMBER ME why he should never – on top of singing in a movie as he did with MAMMA MIA! -  perform with a thick New York accent ever again.   

What it boils down to is the fact that REMEMBER ME offers up stock character types instead of flesh and blood human beings: we have the moody twenty-something male, the precocious and innocent young girl, the cantankerous father figure that’s “never there” for his family, the always suspicious cop father that mistrusts his daughter, and so forth.  But that stuff does not bother me as much as the way REMEMBER ME uses 911 as an economical and manipulative way to avoid using genre clichés to guide the romance of this film.  Certainly, other films have used history to guide melodrama before (like, say, GONE WITH THE WIND and TITANIC), but REMEMBER ME’s narrative is totally undone by the sheer magnitude of the tragedy of its historical event.   

I have been asked what makes a “zero star” film, to which I respond as follows: A zero star film is one that (a) is artistically vacant and/or (b) is unpardonably immoral or offensive in its subject matter.  REMEMBER ME adheres more strongly to the latter criteria: There is much to appreciate in the film (like the some of the performances), but there is no denying that lazily evoking the events of those dreadful hours of 911 is not only a disservice to the film’s plot, but it also dishonors the event itself and reduces it to a unsophisticated and throwaway plot device.  That’s disgraceful.  It’s funny, but critics slammed the filmmakers of UNITED 93 and WORLD TRADE CENTER for “exploiting” the events of 911 “too soon” after the tragedy.  All those films did was to dramatically provide a portal into chronicling the event.    What REMEMBER ME does is so much more condescending and unpleasant: it disturbingly uses the tragedy to lead towards half-baked and overwrought emotional payoffs.  That’s wrong, and it stains this film.

  H O M E