Liam Neeson Forgot They’ve Made This Movie Before and Better.
DIRECTED BY MARTIN CAMPBELL / 2022
If you’re going to put Guy Pearce into a movie where the hero, suffering from acute memory loss, is reduced to writing notes on his body, you’d better be damn sure of yourself. The people behind Memory were, but that confidence was misplaced. Liam Neeson’s new revenge thriller Memory calls to mind Memento, Heat, and The Fugitive and fails to live up to the memory of those better films.
Neeson plays Alex Lewis, an experienced hit man who’s starting to notice he has a problem. He’s forgetting things. Since his father died of Alzhiemers, and his brother is in a home suffering from the same, it seems his fate is sealed. Still, one must pay the bills and he accepts a job calling for a pair of hits in Texas. When one of those targets turns out to be a teenage girl, he refuses and becomes his patron’s next target. This leads him on a path of bloody revenge.
On the other side of the cops-and-robbers divide is FBI agent Vincent Serra, played by a grungy Guy Pearce. Serra’s part of a task force investigating a human trafficking ring bringing girls across the border. He finds that he’s investigating the same people Lewis is murdering, and when the Fed and the hit man cross paths, the films becomes a game of cat-and-mouse as Lewis tries to stay one step ahead of the pursuing lawman.
As a director, Martin Campbell is able to elevate strong material into greatness, as he did with films like Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro, and Casino Royale. However, he is unable to do anything with Memory. He gets good performances out of his actors, he knows how to shoot a given scene, be it talking or chasing or fighting. But there just no… there there. None of the characters pop. They have tragic backstories that are shared with dozens of their forebears. The most interesting one is Neeson’s hitman, because his mind is becoming less and less reliable. For a man who’s being hunted by both the law and dangerous criminals, that’s a potentially deadly situation.
But Memory can’t be bothered to do anything with it.
At one point, Neeson hears about an execution, and he becomes worried because he can’t remember where he was or what he did the night before. Could he have killed someone and not remembered? That’s real drama! But, the movie provides him with a witness who can let him off the hook almost immediately so he doesn’t have to worry. Late in the film, he has trouble recalling a vital clue. Oh no! Luckily Guy Pearce can figure it out in the next scene, so there’s no cause for alarm there! Think again of Memento and how Leonard Shelby’s memory loss allowed others to use and manipulate him. He had a thorough system in place, but it wasn’t foolproof and the movie used that to its full advantage. In contrast, Neeson’s condition provides, at best, momentary speed bumps in his race for revenge. He’s still a man with a particular set of skills. It’s just now he has to write himself a note every now and again.