Review: Liam Neeson’s Latest, Memory, Is Flat and Forgettable

Well, it’s a new month, so it’s time for a new Liam Neeson movie. And you guessed it: he plays a guy with a certain set of skills that involve killing people. In Memory, Neeson plays Alex Lewis, an actual professional assassin who is known for being efficient, discreet and precise, with only a few footnotes in his threadbare moral code including not killing children. When we meet Alex, he’s decided the time has come to hang up his silencer and retire, mostly because he’s noticed severe lapses in his memory that may be the result of Alzheimer’s, for which he takes medication that isn’t helping as much as it once did.

When he refuses to complete a job because of his hangup about killing kids, he realizes that the people who hired him are going to consider him a problem moving forward, and they attempt to take him out instead. So Alex preventatively decides he must hunt them down before they can find him. The added wrinkle in this deadly kill-or-be-killed scenario is that FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), partner Linda Amistead (Taj Atwal), and a liaison from Mexican law enforcement (Harold Torres) are looking for him as well, possibly as a suspect or an informant, depending on Alex’s mood. In its unnecessarily complicated plot, we also have Ray Stevenson as a local detective constantly throwing roadblocks in front of the FBI making it near impossible to get this case solved, and Monica Bellucci as Davana Sealman, a powerful woman in the middle of this mess who seems to have a controlling interest in all things good and bad.

Memory is directed by the sometimes very capable Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro, Green Lantern, and last year’s The Protégé), but I don’t think many filmmakers could unscramble this dense, thorny screenplay that somehow still manages to feel choppy and poorly edited. I’m still not exactly sure (except in vague terms) what Bellucci’s character has to do with anything in this story. I’m always happy to see her in anything, but except for a weirdly European vibe, I’m not sure she adds much to the proceedings. Pearce’s Serra is probably the most interesting character, but there isn’t much competition. It would have been so bold to make Neeson play a character who was not just THE bad guy, but A bad guy.

It should be noted, Memory is a remake of the 2003 Belgian crime thriller The Memory of a Killer (which is itself based on a novel). This film was shot largely in Bulgaria, doubling for El Paso, Texas, and presumably there’s a reason for that that has to do with the twisted devotion to law and order with an underlying corruption to everything just to spice things up. The child that Alex won’t kill is a teenaged girl/illegal immigrant (Mia Sanchez) who has been sold into prostitution by her father, so the political undertones may be fuzzy, but they’re there. But like most of Memory, the message, context, and point of everything is lost in a murky story that adds nothing to the conversation about all of the subjects being randomly thrown into the mix. And Campbell’s direction doesn’t make anything make sense or even pop in interesting ways. It’s flat, without visual flair and could have been done by anyone.

I wish the film had been more about Alex’s ailment—a hitman with memory issues could make for some seriously entertaining and even darkly humorous moments. But his memory still seems largely functional (his greatest issue at one point is that he can’t remember where he left a thumb drive that he was trying to keep hidden anyway). Instead, the movie focuses more on the generic detective work and corruption angle that don’t offer anything new to the cop movie genre. Memory is a never-ending list of missed opportunities, with only a few highlights in some of the performances. The good news is, my memory won’t retain anything about this movie by the end of the week.

The film is now playing theatrically.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.