Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Dario Scardapane
Cast: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Monica Bellucci, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, and Harold Torres
Cinematographer: David Tattersall
Editor: Jo Francis
At one point in the new Liam Neeson starrer, Memory, a character grimly declares: Justice – it ain’t guaranteed. And memory is a motherfucker. And that just about sums up this film.
Memory is a remake of the 2003 Belgian film The Memory of a Killer, which was based on the book De Zaak Alzheimer by Jef Geeraerts. The set-up has promise – Neeson plays Alex Lewis, an expert contract killer who, despite his age, murders with skill and precision. He’s a lone wolf who enters and exits with stealth and kills with impunity. But even he has a moral code – he doesn’t hurt children. When he refuses to take out a 13-year-old girl for a powerful criminal organization, he becomes a target himself. The mob, local police, FBI agents and Mexican intelligence agents enter the fray.
What ups the stakes is that Alex is suffering from severe memory loss. Like Leonard in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Alex uses his arm as a post-it, scribbling clues and information so that he can remember. Incidentally, Guy Pearce, who played Leonard, plays Vincent, an FBI officer investigating a sex trafficking ring, who hunts down Alex as he goes about his rampage against the mob. Which made me wonder if the two actors exchanged notes on set on the art of enacting memory loss. Both deliver strong performances that shore up the formulaic beats of this film.
All of this plays out in and around the Mexican border and El Paso, Texas. Detention centers for undocumented immigrants are a pivotal plot point. Director Martin Campbell, who also made Casino Royale and Green Lantern, tries to create a gritty drama, which benefits from being topical but the narrative is too lurid and the plot too convenient to take seriously. Especially when the luscious Monica Bellucci shows up as Davana Sealman, a shady, soulless real-estate mogul.
The pleasure here, as it is in many late-career Neeson vehicles, is in watching the Oscar-nominated actor unleash mayhem with panache and that weary wisdom that comes with age. His eyes express the exhaustion in his bones but this doesn’t mean that Alex can’t perform excruciating treatment on himself when he gets shot. Campbell gives us close-ups of this DIY surgery – it’s not pretty. No wonder Alex wants to quit but as another trigger-happy colleague reminds him: Men like us don’t retire.
Little in this film is startlingly original though there is a nicely staged murder in a gym. It’s done with such efficiency that you want to applaud. But most of it is a serviceable mishmash of violence, sketchily written backstories to provide characters with motivation, corruption, bureaucratic politics and Neeson doing what he does best – cleansing the world with a gun and righteous rage.
A 69-year-old action star is a miracle. In an interview, Neeson joked about still getting away with it. He absolutely does. There is a tragic majesty about him. And his imposing physicality adds conviction – he looks like he could do the things he is doing. I also enjoyed Pearce as a troubled agent who must put his own demons to rest and Bellucci, vamping it up with a mix of silk and steel.
However, there isn’t much that is memorable about Memory. You can watch the film at a theatre near you.