Synopsis – An assassin-for-hire finds that he’s become a target after he refuses to complete a job for a dangerous criminal organization. A remake of the 2003 Belgian film ‘The Memory of a Killer’.
My Take – Just another year, just another month and just another weekend which sees Liam Neeson pulls out his particular set of skills and goes to work on bad guys, in order to protect his family or just anybody in the vicinity.
Ever since Taken released fourteen years ago and turned Neeson into one of the most unlikely action stars around, the nearly 70 years old Northern Irish actor has been playing almost the same character in solo action ventures, with little variations of course, but without the need to invest too deeply after all they all adhered to the familiar popcorn entertainment formula.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the case of his last four releases, Blacklight, Honest Thief, The Marksman and The Ice Road, films that I have disliked more with each passing day, films that showed clear signs of diminishing interest from the veteran actor itself, and a growing habit of picking up mediocre seldom fun action thrillers to star in.
However, his latest had a certain expectations attached, mainly due to the involvement of director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye), who recently helmed The Foreigner (2017) and The Protégé (2021), two action thrillers, that while not perfect, yet still managed to be slick, stylish and highly engaging. Plus, the film is an official remake of a successful Belgian film, The Alzheimer Case (2003), which itself was based on the novel De zaak Alzheimer by Jef Geeraerts.
Unfortunately, despite these elements, nothing stops it from being a largely dull, uninspired rehash of generic clichés and tropes that have been done better in dozens of other better films. Though certainly an improvement over Nesson‘s aforementioned starrers, in the grand scheme of things, this Martin Campbell directorial too is indeed forgettable like them.
As competent a filmmaker as he is, the film lacks any distinct creative flair or excitement. While Neeson tries to breathe light into a role that has been done to death, the end result is just not the action thriller spectacle that it promised to be, instead can be boiled down to its straightforward synopsis allowing the viewer to know precisely what to expect.
The story follows Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson), a ruthlessly efficient contract killer who has taken jobs from some of the worst people in the world. Now looking to retire due to his increasing Alzheimer’s-related dementia, Alex takes up one last task, to eliminate an associate of real-estate magnate and wealthy philanthropist Davana Sealman’s (Monica Bellucci) son and a 13-year-old girl named Beatriz (Mia Sanchez), who had been trafficked from Mexico into the US. While Alex quickly takes care of the man, due to his personal code, he refuses to kill the child.
But when Beatriz anyways ends up dead, Alex starts working his way up the ladder of his employers, with bullets and bombs, despite being completely overwhelmed by the his condition that has begun to diminish his cognitive capacity. All the while as he is persistently chased by Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), an FBI agent who had placed Beatriz into foster care in the hopes that she won’t be deported and has also pursuing the same people Alex is.
Though the synopsis sounds straightforward, there is a lack of balance from the start. Zipping between Alex’s convoluted quest, Vincent and his motley crew of FBI investigators, and the corporate elite real estate trafficking ring, the film is never interested in telling us who these people are, what they want or why they’re doing any of this.
What’s mostly hilarious is how the concept of the unreliable memory of the protagonist is barely used in the story. Here, Alex’s failing memory is often dramatized as a more general kind of incompetence; he doesn’t seem like a sick hit man so much as a bad one. For example, he forgets to put the firing pin back into a pistol, he downloads sensitive client information onto a thumb drive, he spectacularly fails to protect a nice sex worker from getting shot in the neck.
Instead the concept could have been used to create a mystery to the events that unfold and what is actually real, but it isn’t. All the story’s questions are provided with quick and easy answers, and it all results in a very disappointing story with no emotional or intellectual impact. But the biggest sin the film commits is its lacks in the action department.
The promise of any Liam Neeson action film is the veteran actor committing startling acts of brutality, but here we see Alex just move around and threaten a lot of people with violence while only occasionally committing any. Though director Martin Campbell has reliably delivered exciting action sequences in his career, here, he seemed more interested in working on ineffective melodrama than any form of physical conflict.
Performance wise, Liam Neeson no doubt embraced the opportunity to play a more vulnerable version of his usual badass, and doesn’t overdo the symptoms as Alex fends off the memory issues that plague him. Guy Pearce sleepwalks through his role, at least making an effort to lift Vincent out of being pure cliché, while Monica Bellucci is just wasted in a one note role.
In supporting roles, Ray Stevenson, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, Harold Torres, Natalie Anderson and Mia Sanchez fair considerably better. On the whole, ‘Memory’ is yet another tepid and dispensable Liam Neeson led action thriller that is both sporadic and tedious.
Directed – Martin Campbell
Starring – Liam Neeson, Monica Bellucci, Guy Pearce
Rated – R
Run Time – 114 minutes