sit to watch MemoryI was prepped for another Liam Neeson-As-Righteous-Avenger movie (the kind of thing that has inexplicably become his bread and butter since the success of Taken). To my surprise, however, Neeson and director Martin Campbell (whose spotty resume includes Casino Royale and The Green Lantern, among others) pulled a bait and a switch. What initially sounds like “just another chance for Neeson to kick ass” turns into something more ambiguous and less conventional. Memory uses our expectations to generate twists that might not have existed with a different lead actor.
Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a high-end assassin whose services have long been in demand by crime syndicates and cartels north and south of the Texas-Mexico border. Afflicted by the increasing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Alex has decided to retire but is persuaded to take on one last case. There are two victims and, after killing the first, he discovers that the second is a child. As the murder of children violates a personal code of honor, he abrogates the contract, which makes him a target. Since the once-accurate hitman left evidence at the scene, he’s soon been hunted down by two FBI agents — Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) and Linda Amistead (Taj Atwal) — along with a Mexican officer, Hugo. Marquez (Harold Torres), who works with them. Alex makes the decision to go after the big boss who ordered the girl’s death – not an easy task since Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) is a powerful woman with many lawmen in her pocket , including detective Danny Mora (Ray Stevenson), who is in a turf war with the FBI. Alex soon finds himself on the run from almost everyone – cops and criminals – and discovers that his only ally may be someone he least suspected.
There are three things that make Memory atypical in the Neeson Crime Thriller library. (1) The main character is not “a good person at heart”. Alex is a ruthless killer who, aside from his personal twisted code, is a thug. (2) The incorporation of the Alzheimer’s element makes the game of cat and mouse much more interesting as it limits the abilities of the alpha predator. (3) The film is rated R. While Neeson’s efforts in the genre have occasionally strayed into this territory, the vast majority are PG-13. allowing Memory having an R rating allows for a more gritty approach.
There are a few narrative issues – it’s not a tight storyline by any means. The most obvious of these is the rapidity with which Alex’s illness is progressing. Those who have been around patients with Alzheimer’s disease know that it follows a slow and steady trajectory. In Memory, it accelerated considerably. When the film begins, Alex only begins to experience shortcomings (he momentarily cannot find the keys to a getaway vehicle). In the end, his skill was seriously compromised. Little time elapses in the meantime.
Memory is a remake of a 2003 Belgian thriller titled The Alzheimer case, which was in turn based on a novel by Jef Geeraerts. Most of the changes employed for the American version are cosmetic, although the passage from Europe to the Texas/Mexico border allows the scenario to focus on the tension that exists between the American and Mexican authorities as well as the unease between the FBI and local law enforcement. . These two elements were not in the original story.
Liam Neeson doesn’t add much unique to the role beyond the baggage of expectations that work in memory to favor. Neeson is so often associated with honorable and well-meaning characters that we react positively to Alex, even though there’s nothing in the character to justify such a reaction. Guy Pearce is also thrown against type a bit – known more often for being a villain, it takes a while to warm up to him. As a cold-hearted villain at the top of the gangster pyramid, Monica Bellucci has little to do but her presence is welcome nonetheless.
Memory plays like a crime/revenge thriller and showcases the strengths and weaknesses of both. At its best, it’s reminiscent of the Mel Gibson movie Refund (which was also a remake of an earlier film based on a book). It’s not as good as the 1999 production, but it has some of the same elements (in particular, a hunted man reversing the tables on his pursuers and killing his way up the chain of command). It’s solidly entertaining although it lacks elements that would give it staying power. It’s released in theaters but should play just as well for home audiences. It’s Neeson’s best movie (at least as a lead) in a while, but it may be as much a commentary on the state of the actor’s career as an indication of the entertainment potential of the film.
Memory (US, 2022)