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MEMORY (2022) review

April 29, 2022


written by: Dario Scardapane (screenplay) and Jef Geeraerts (novel)
produced by: Moshe Diamant, Michael Heimler, Rupert Maconick, Arthur Sarkissian, & Cathy Schulman
directed by: Martin Campbell
rated: R (for violence, some bloody images and language throughout)
runtime: 114 min.
U.S. release date: April 29, 2022 (theatrical)


Earlier this year, there was the bland “Blacklight”, yet another in a long line of thrillers led by Liam Neeson that are released around the same time each year. The actor seemed tired and uninterested in the role, dragging through a movie that barely had a story to it. Months later and we have “Memory” and one might wonder if this is deva ju all over again, even though there’s still a part of us rooting for him. Admittedly, the concept and the trailer seemed promising, especially considering it’s helmed by Martin Campbell, who gave us two of the best Bond films (“Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale”), but let’s not forget that he also directed Ryan Reynolds in “Green Lantern”. Hoo boy.

But back to that concept, which is told efficiently in the trailer for “Memory”. Neeson is a weary veteran assassin who is having trouble with his memory. That’s a problem for just about any job, but when your work assignment is killing a specific person, you have to be clandestine about it and trail that person to determine what their routine is and when is the best way to take them out. I’m not typing from experience here. I have no problem admitting, I learned most of what I know from the movies.

The idea of incorporating memory loss in this kind of thriller is potentially fascinating (I shouldn’t have to emphasize what the key word is there), giving the screenwriter the opportunity to really delve into what it takes to hold on to one’s mind and the utter frustration that comes with realizing what you’re losing. Sadly, that’s not this movie and when I realized it’s an American remake of a 2003 Belgian thriller “The Alzheimer Case”, it left me eager to seek out that one figuring there had to be more to the original, at the very least it had to be better. If not, why would it be worth remaking?

If you’re like me and for some unknown reason (yes, there was actually a pretty good Nesson thriller called “Unknown”) are still interested in these interchangeable thrillers by the lanky Irishman, than you’re at least giving these flicks a chance and are open to anything. In the opening of “Memory”, hitman Alex Lewis (Neeson) has disguised himself as a nurse at a Guadalajara hospital, in order to infiltrate his way into the room where his target’s intubated mother is being treated. Of course, he knows his target will come to visit his mama, which gives Alex the perfect chance to eliminate his target and escape in an Oldsmobile station wagon. It’s a scene that could’ve used a bit more time to establish that Alex has played the role of this nurse to gain the trust of the staff and the mother’s family and then on one evening, he makes his move in one swift. Unfortunately, it’s all played too quickly with the kind of pace we’ve come to expect in such a thriller. At the end of this scene, there’s a glimpse of forgetfulness that Alex wrestles with, but that too is handled too quickly, whereas their could’ve been more panic for a man who typically had everything lined up appropriately.



Then the movie cuts to El Paso, Texas, where for some reason the rest of the story will primarily take place. We’re introduced to FBI Agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), who retrieves a preteen Mexican girl from a father who’s been pimping her out for who knows how long. In an awkward scene, he poses as a potential customer that winds up with the father died on the street below and the girl being taken to a crowded detention center (the kind we’ve seen plenty of news coverage about) after his cover is blown. It remains to be seen if Vincent is any good at his job, but there’s some definitely a draw to Pearce’s tired character with his mustache and greasy long hair. He wants to help the girl and is frustrated that the law will allow him very little to do in that regard. Shifting from Neeson’s veteran hitman and Pearce’s useless agent is initially a head scratcher. You know they will eventually cross paths, but at this time it feels like either of them could be in sufficiently different movies.

Once Alex makes his way to this side of the Rio Grande (in El Paso coincidentally), one would hope we can start to see his dementia play out in a more flustered and confusing manner for the character. It’s hard to tell if it’s in the way in which Dario Scardapane writes the character or how Neeson portrays him, but as the convoluted story unravels, it feels as though the problem with his memory is delivered in either a heavy-handed way or not taken seriously enough to matter (which is odd considering the title). There’s no in-between. Yes, he’s forgetting things and writing certain things down, but the psychological weight of all this isn’t really felt. In one scene, as Alex is about shoot someone, he realizes the firing pin wasn’t assembled back into the gun. He shows a little surprise and frustration, but not enough. After all, that could happen to anyone working too fast or just flat out forgetful. Other things, like downloading sensitive material onto a thumb drive or getting a sad call girl fatally shot just comes across as an incompetent, rather than someone who has a developing ailment.

There’s a scene in which he checks in on his older brother, who receives in-patient care for his own Alzheimer’s condition in order to check up on him and possibly get a glimpse of what his future holds. It could’ve been a more touching moment if we’re allowed to see Alex’s emotional state after his visit with a sibling who is in a near-vegetative state, but we don’t go there and that’s a shame.



Of course, Alex wants to retire and that brings us to a the “last job” cliche we often find in this genre. The protagonist will take this one last assignment and then he’s out. Not so fast and not so easy. His colleague laughs it off and his employer won’t have it. When that last target is a young girl who’s tied to a sex trafficking ring that’s linked to a CEO of a hedge fund played by Monica Belluci (of all people), Alex not only backs out but starts to redirect what little focus he has left on all of those connected to getting this young girl involved in such depravity. That’s what’ll connect him with the FBI agent Pearce plays and his partner (Taj Atwal), a pair that begins to piece together who Alex Lewis is in a convenient manner, while trying to work under the nose of local detective Mora, (played by a welcome pot-bellied Ray Stevenson, another Irishman who is somehow a perfect fit for southern Texas). Vincent uncovers a tragic backstory on Alex, such as how he and his brother were abused by their father – is that what led him to become a hitman and develop a kill-no-child rule? In general, that’s an understandably standard rule that’s applied to most movie killers. That being said, I can’t recall where a movie killer is ruthless enough to include women and children in his/her agenda, but maybe that’s my own memory problem.

Considering the concept of the movie and how it’s executed, I wonder if Neeson and Pearce talked about it, considering the “Memento” actor’s experience in losing his mind. Unfortunately, they don’t have many scenes together, but one has to wonder considering Neeson’s character is often seen writing memory words on his left forearm. The character Pearce played in “Memento”, the Christopher Nolan mystery film from 2000 which also revolves around memory loss, did this as well, albeit in a more confusing, frenzied, and aggressive manner, without limiting his writing to one body part.

What if all the characters in these action flicks that Liam Neeson has been playing since 2008’s “Taken” were all variables of the same identity and naturally with wear and tear (and multiple contusions and near-death occurrences) were starting to slow down physically and mentally, affecting them emotionally? Call it the Neesonverse. Neeson is a far more talented and interesting actor than most of these roles give him credit for, so it’s frustrating to see all these thrillers added on to one seemingly endless spin dial. That being said, he’ll be showing up as the title role in Neil Jordan’s take on Philip Marlowe. My interest is piqued.

“Memory” is more focused on being a thriller where it could have subverted expectations by turning into a potent drama, especially considering the number of people out there dealing with memory issues or a diagnosis like Alzheimer’s.





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