Movie Review: ‘Memory’ Will Be Forgotten As Soon As It Ends
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Dario Scardapane
Stars: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Ray Stevenson, Taj Atwal, and Monica Bellucci
Synopsis: An assassin-for-hire finds that he’s become a target after he refuses to complete a job for a dangerous criminal organization.
It’s ironic that a film with a title like Memory is so forgettable, and it’s even more ironic when the basic idea of the movie, a remake of Erik Van Looy’s De zaak Alzheimer (based on the book of the same name by Jef Geeraerts), centers around memory loss. It’s definitely an interesting spin in the pantheon of Liam Neeson’s “particular set of skills” cinematic universe, but not enough to entice anyone into watching. Not even Martin Campbell, director of two of the best James Bond films of all time (GoldenEye and Casino Royale) can make the material feel tangible, or Neeson interested in what he’s doing. At this point, he’s become a full-fledged recreation of Charles Bronson in his Cannon Group-era starring in a slew of milquetoast, and nearly-identical, action thrillers and phoning it in every single time. Neeson is turning 70 this year and doesn’t have the spark he once had making these types of thrillers, especially when he collaborated with Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s off to bigger things having previously directed Jungle Cruise and is now working on Black Adam. Maybe it’s time for Neeson to think about starring in other films before he inevitably does a remake of Bronson’s Assassination.
In Memory, Neeson plays Alex Lewis, an assassin-for-hire slowly losing his mind (and memory) to Alzheimer’s. He wants out, to enjoy the rest of his life before the disease takes control of his body, but accepts the infamous “one last job” before retirement. The “last job” involves acquiring two USB keys, and killing two targets. However, one of the targets is a child, and when Alex realizes it, he refuses to complete the mission, which leads to the “contractors” hunting him down, led by Monica Bellucci’s Devana Sealman, and FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) looking for Alex.
A Martin Campbell-directed action thriller, starring Liam Neeson, Monica Bellucci, and Guy Pearce?!?!?? How on earth can it not suck? Oh, how naïve I was. Memory immediately halts your attention through the first few minutes of the movie, signaling to the audience that it’ll spend over an hour of its time in “first act” mode. The film’s pace is so languishing that it keeps introducing new characters well after an hour has passed, and has very little time to wrap things up during its anticlimactic ending.
It’s almost as if screenwriter Dario Scardapane gave up midway through the script at fleshing out the characters and the drama surrounding them that he jumped the shark and crafted an ending so inane, and unsatisfying it’ll ultimately leave your brain by the time the credits finish rolling. If you’re doing a “particular set of skills” film, the ending needs to involve Neeson in some capacity “finishing the job”, but the second act of Memory puts Neeson in a hospital bed, allowing him to, quite literally, sleep through his performance. Neeson has been very good at saying “listen to me very carefully” (which he does here) and lightly slapping antagonists to knockouts in Taken 3, or, most recently, in Blacklight, and he makes it absolutely clear that he just does not care anymore. They’re easy paychecks, which are extremely apparent in the way they are shot and written.
There’s no thought to deepen the premise of Neeson progressively losing his memory while trying to kill someone. The film only uses Alex’s Alzheimer’s disease as a framing device, with the character getting sporadic bouts of memory loss, which seem completely random, and only necessary for forced drama, particularly when he is in tight situations. When these occur, he suddenly loses all sense of self and gets disoriented. But look at him kicking major ass in the previous scene! It makes no sense and it is so underwritten that it ultimately becomes offensive to those who are truly suffering from Alzheimer’s, a disease that has unfortunately made its way into my family and claimed the lives of people close to me. You can’t magically turn it on or off, which Scardapane does way too frequently. Again, the premise is interesting enough, but the execution is so haphazard that it borders on offensive territory.
None of the supporting actors are good, too, which is a shame. Guy Pearce seems like the only one who gives a damn, but his character follows the trope of “FBI Agent who thinks he’s one step ahead of the protagonist but not really.” He’s the type of character we’ve seen a thousand times before in film, and his arc is the exact same as every single FBI agent with that same arc in the history of cinema. He catches the guy, and then they help out since their interest in the real antagonist of the story is mutual. And Bellucci is a great choice to play an antagonist, but it’s a shame that the film does absolutely nothing of interest with her character, who sits around getting medical treatment and ordering people around on the phone. Ray Stevenson also pops up during the movie as a rather brutal detective, but he’s as boring as everyone else. Stevenson recently gave the best performance of his career in S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR (a movie that everyone who loves maximalist blockbusters should check out), and so Memory is a huge step down from what he accomplished in Rajamouli’s film.
As far as the action sequences go, they’re definitely not as tight, or as brilliantly directed as Campbell’s previous work. Even The Foreigner, which was a lackluster film, had superb action that took advantage of Jackie Chan’s martial arts talent. Memory sticks Liam Neeson in the most standard gunfights imaginable, with no eye for visceral tension, or a kinetic camera. It’s amazingly standard, and since the film contains very few action scenes, they’re immediately forgotten after they’ve passed, or even during the movie. I was so bored to tears that I quickly forgot what happened after one cut, or even after one scene. The movie never engages with the audience from the get-go, so how do you expect the audience to engage themselves if they don’t feel compelled to step into the film’s world?
I do applaud Memory for accomplishing the impossible, which is to make you forget about virtually every aspect of the film by the time the lights go back up in the cinema. Of course, if you’re a fan of the most standard action movies that were once made by The Cannon Group and starred Charles Bronson, you may find enjoyment in Liam Neeson delivering the same type of disinterest that Bronson did in films like Assassination, 10 to Midnight, or Messenger of Death. Neeson has toyed with the idea of retiring from action films for a while now. To be honest, while his earlier movies were fun, the schtick has grown tired. He should definitely consider starring in a dramatic film, partly to regain the status he once held as one of the greatest dramatic actors of all time and remind us all how great of an actor he is when he cares about the material and believes in the movie.