A film review by Craig J. Koban May 25, 2022

MEMORY jj
   

2022, R, 114 mins.

Liam Neeson as Alex Lewis  /  Guy Pearce as Vincent Serra  /  Taj Atwal as Linda Amistead  /  Harold Torres as Hugo Marquez  /  Monica Bellucci as Davana Sealman  /  Ray Stevenson as Detective Danny Mora  /  Stella Stocker as Maya  /  Antonio Jaramillo as Papa Leon

Directed by Martin Campbell  /  Written by Dario Scardapane, based on the book by Jef Geeraerts
 

 

 

 

I was positively dreading the thought of seeing MEMORY, which I thought was going to be yet another entry on an increasingly long and embarrassingly exhausting list of Aging Liam Neeson Takes Names and Kicks Ass films.  

What once started as a fairly cool career rejuvenation move for the former Oskar Schindler/Oscar nominated star with TAKEN (he was then just a baby at 56 years old!) segued into more action heavy roles and has recently morphed into highly disposable B-grade territory.  Over the last few years we've been subjected to Neeson led genre efforts of horribly diminishing qualitative returns, with low bar works like THE ICE ROAD, THE MARKSMEN, and, most recently, this year's BLACKLIGHT.  Watching the trailers for MEMORY didn't inspire much confidence in me; this looked like another shameless paycheck nabbing affair for the now pushing 70 star. 

I'm somewhat happy to report, though, that MEMORY might be the best  Aging Liam Neeson Takes Names and Kicks Ass film in awhile (granted, that's not saying a whole hell of a lot).  It's modestly saved from the complete dumpster fire awfulness of his last several action outings by three things: (a) Director Martin Campbell is at the helm, a competent director that has made things as far ranging as the greatest James Bond film ever in CASINO ROYALE to swashbuckler adventures in THE MASK OF ZORRO to super hero fare like GREEN LANTERN; (b) the premise here plays up to Neeson's strengths as an actor and his age, not to mention that he's atypically not portraying a morally righteous do-gooder here at all; and (c) the premise - a hitman that's tasked with murdering a pre-teen has second thoughts while battling Alzheimer's Disease - is both ludicrous on paper, but novel and engaging premise for an action thriller (which ties neatly into acknowledging Neeson's real advancing years).  MEMORY is substantially more interesting than I was expecting, but it still suffers from some illogical scripting and a lack of finesse when it comes to its themes.  If BLACKOUT was an absolute strikeout for Neeson and company, then MEMORY would be a solid one or two base hit...but not much else. 

It's refreshing, however, to see Neeson really sink his performance chops into this tricky role (he's not just pathetically going through the perfunctory motions) and play someone that's perhaps not altogether worthy of our rooting interest.  He plays a vile and dangerous person here that's anything but a hero; the fact that he's battling Alzheimer's is perhaps the only level of audience sympathy that's garnered for him.  Based on the 1985 novel DE ZAAK ALZHEIMER by Belgian writer Jef Geeraerts (which, in turn, was adapted into a 2003 Belgian film), MEMORY introduces us to Neeson's Alex Lewis, who - like so many other Neeson roles for the last decade and a half - has a particular set of lethal skills as a highly efficient hired assassin.  And also like many other Neeson roles of the last decade and a half, Alex is thinking of leaving his deadly occupation behind him to settle down.  Unfortunately, his work has seen him get into bed with many crime syndicates both in the U.S. and Mexico, so getting out will prove to be a thorny task for him. He's persuaded to do one proverbial last job before retirement in El Paso, even though something seems off upon meeting his handler , like, for instance, him asking for an Iced Tea after one has been placed in front of him...hmmmmmm... 

 

 

Like a duck to water, Alex partakes on his last mission, which involves two targets and retrieving a MacGuffin-like flash drive that contains vital INTEL that his employers want to keep hidden from the public.  He's able to easily kill the first target, but when he discovers - to his horror - that the second is 12-year-old girl (Mia Sanchez) he has instant second thoughts and refuses to do the deed, but keeps the flash drives in question.  This girl has had a rough go of it in life, having being sold into child prostitution by her depraved father, with one of his clients being the son of a powerful businesswoman, Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci).  She has a vested interest Alex him in a severely handicapping way, he manages to fend off this hired goon squad.  He still has enough mental faculties to leave the FBI a series of breadcrumb-like clues, with one undercover agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) picking them up (he also has a history with Alex's young girl target and wants to right many serious wrongs).  Meanwhile, Alex makes it his one-man mission to eradicate all of these horrible child sex traffickers...and if anyone has seen the original TAKEN then you'll be able to remember that the sex traffickers didn't stand a chance in that film...and they won't here either. 

I'll give MEMORY full props for being at least more inspired and ambitious with its premise than most of the recent Neeson action crapfests that litter the market on an annual basis.  I liked how Campbell and Neeson work in tandem to really subvert audience expectations with this underlining material and the increasingly stale conventions of the Aging Liam Neeson Takes Names and Kicks Ass genre.  Alex is not a well meaning force of good here (at least in the early stages) and is not a squeaky clean protagonist.  Aside from a code to not kill children, he's really a freakishly violent hired assassin that murders his targets (some including women) in the most grisly manner possible.  Throwing an Alzheimer's diagnosis into the mix adds in more intrigue on top of this, which hurts Alex's overall effectiveness in the field and his ability to stay on task and in focus.  Neeson is also given a lot more to do in MEMORY than with any of his other stock characters that have been handed to him as of late, and he's able to not only show that he can still go mano-a-mano with the best of them (and younger) on screen at a ripe age, but he also pulls off some dramatically potent moments that are triggered by this man's awareness that he's slipping away and will never recover.  This character is far less by the books in terms of the types of Neeson heroes we've been programmed to cheer on, and it's a welcome thing that there's more going on under the surface of MEMORY than the advertising let on. 

That, and the veteran director Campbell makes a fairly well oiled action thriller that's shockingly gory and hard edged (this film utterly earns its R-rating), and it's his dependable skills in front of the camera that allows MEMORY to elevate itself above past retro-grade Neeson schlock.  This is a darker and more unsettlingly cynical outing for Neeson than what we've seen over the last few years, and MEMORY is better for it (and hey, let's not forget about Pearce's solid and wink-wink turn here too, and what a nifty piece of callback casting, seeing as his greatest role might be in Christopher Nolan's memory tainted thriller MEMENTO).  Unfortunately, for as much conceptual freshness of approach here, MEMORY still adheres to many tired and overused assassin for hire conventions and troupes, like the doomed lone killer that's damaged goods (in more than one way) that's trying to go straight, but can't and then becomes embroiled in a larger conspiracy and redemption arc.  MEMORY, as mentioned, is finer than many recent Neeson action thrillers, but it nevertheless stridently adheres to the same type of repetitive elderly avenging angel of death formulas of those same films, which is ultimately disappointing. 

Plus, the scripting here isn't as compellingly water tight as it should have been.  There's some fertile thematic ground for the film to cover - like the intersection of morality/politics/business, cross border relations between law enforcement, and coming to grips with mortality when being dealt a rotten disease like Alzheimer's - but MEMORY simply isn't very engaging or insightful on such matters.  Further hurting the cause is how many plot developments are simply hard to swallow and border on nonsensically silly, like, for instance, just how damn quickly Alex goes from a highly put together killer to full blown Alzheimer's sufferer.  The speed at which this disease ravages him is almost insultingly swift and lacking credibility, especially considering that he begins the film super sharp...but then he experience lapses in memory...and by the end he's a mental vegetable.  Huh?  This has to be one of quickest disease trajectories I've seen in any film.  It's a shame, because MEMORY has so much good going for it, namely the partnership of Campbell and Neeson and an attempt to break free of the slavish mould of the Aging Liam Neeson Takes Names and Kicks Ass genre.  On a scale of avoid at all costs and definitely worthy of big screen cinema consumption, I'd rate MEMORY as a VOD rental.  

Granted, you might very quickly forget about it after your stream. 

  H O M E