Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Memory is an action thriller directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Foreigner) and based on Jef Geeraerts' 1985 novel, De Zaak Alzheimer. Memory is also a remake of the novel’s previous adaptation, a 2003 Belgian film called The Alzheimer Case. Contract killer Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) is beginning to show early signs of Alzheimer’s while doing jobs. He’s hired by a high paying criminal organization to kill two targets on what he hopes is his final job before retirement.
But, Alex is asked to kill a 13-year old girl named Beatrice and refuses. The young girl is killed anyway, which has Alex questioning his condition. FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) was recently working on a human trafficking case and Beatrice was the lone survivor. Her death greatly affects Serra emotionally. He's motivated by retribution and has access to the FBI’s resources. All of which suggests that Alex is the murderer.
Liam Neeson turns 70 this year. It’s been 14 years since Taken and he seems to be close to walking away from action films. Memory might be his swan song to the genre, and if so, it offers little to nothing in terms of material that you haven't seen before. What makes this role slightly different from the other roles is Neeson’s plunge into rapidly-declining dementia.
The effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia on Alex climaxes during the final 20 or so minutes of Memory. However, it’s the little things in his on-screen demeanor that are intriguing. He captures that lost and terrified look of not knowing where you are, how you got there, or the identity of anyone around you. The shaky breathing and tremor hands are surprisingly convincing, as well.
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The screenplay is the worst part of Memory. It's not just that it's boring — though it is that — it's that Lewis walks around killing people during the day, almost never covers his face, and yet never gets caught. The only reason the FBI is suddenly hot on his trail is because he literally calls them and says, “Why do I have to do your job for you?” He also calls them from a bench right outside the building in which they’re operating, and they still can’t catch him! He can't remember where he put his keys, but he's memorized the city and all of its exits perfectly.
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Later in the film, we see the entire police force inside a building, protecting Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) from Lewis. It’s one contract killer versus an entire police force and somehow Alex parks ten cop cars in front of the entrance without being noticed or heard. He literally activates the flashing lights and car alarms of every cop car to get their attention.
It seems like they cast Guy Pearce solely because of Pearce being involved with Memento over two decades ago. Neeson even writes important things on his arm in similar fashion. Pearce seems to be doing his best despite basically floundering in the mediocrity that surrounds him. His most memorable moment comes near the end of the film where he tells the story of how he lost his family. That brings his relationship with Beatrice into perspective
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Monica Bellucci used to be a part of interesting projects, but she’s totally forgettable in Memory. She whispers nearly all of her lines with pursed lips that make you think of Derek Zoolander’s Blue Steel gaze. Bellucci seems to be an autopilot, unless she’s flirting with the doctor in charge of making her appear younger. She is technically the main villain of Memory and she offers nothing of value.
Throughout Memory, we get the simple message that the rich always get what they want because they have money. Because the poor and working classes have no money, they have no power. But, that's thrown away with the film’s ending. It could be meant to represent that if pushed too far the worker ants will overthrow the queen. If the government won’t help even when substantial evidence has been provided, then desperate individuals will take matters into their own hands.
Memory juggles so many subplots to unsatisfactory results. It’s as if the story throws a ball in the air for every concept in the film (Alzheimer’s, human trafficking, the FBI vs the police, rich people getting whatever they want, etc) only to allow each ball to smack against the ground. For a film about authorities chasing a murderer for nearly two hours, Memory is a monotonous bore. Not even Liam Neeson lighting himself on fire to cauterize a bullet wound can save this forgetful and fatigued memoir of a hoary hit man.
© 2022 Chris Sawin