Film Review – Memory
There are two parallel stories happening in Memory (2022). The first involves an aging assassin named Alex (Liam Neeson). Alex is a smooth operator, who has spent a lifetime taking down targets with expert efficiency. But age and attrition are catching up to him, and signs of early Alzheimer’s has affected his ability to remember important details (hence the title). On the other end of the spectrum is FBI agent Vincent (Guy Pearce), who’s so invested with his work that it consumes his every waking thought. It’s not a spoiler to say that within the two-hour runtime, Alex and Vincent will cross paths. Whether or not their collision course is worth the trip is up for debate.
The central hook is interesting given the casting of the two leads. For Neeson, this is yet another entry in a long line of forgettable, mid-tier action films. At the very least, his character suffering from memory loss adds a new wrinkle for him to explore. Approaching seventy years of age, Neeson might still have the stature to carry these roles, but with each new project his ability to take down enemies half his age become less believable. As Alex, Neeson has some leeway to play a character dealing with the effects of aging. Regret has built up after a career of killing. Of course, none of this really matters. We still get Neeson utilizing his particular set of skills to thwart adversaries.
Guy Pearce adds an interesting facet to the proceedings. Many will surely recall his starring role in Memento (2000) and notice the similarities. In that film, Pearce’s character also suffered from an inability to retain their memories. To keep himself on the right track, he tattooed bits of information and clues all over his body. Keen observers will make the connection here, as Alex takes a marker and writes vital data on his forearm. As Agent Vincent, Pearce makes the most of the limited material given to him. Sporting long, unkempt hair and a bushy mustache, Pearce conjures Vincent as a good guy toeing the line between sticking by the book or taking matters into his own hands.
Director Martin Campbell has always had a deft eye for strong, straightforward action. Whether it be with big budget blockbusters, such as GoldenEye (1995), The Mask of Zorro (1998), and Casino Royale (2006), to smaller scale efforts, like The Protégé (2021), Campbell has always been good at crafting propulsive, stylish action. However, with Memory, he’s hampered not only with a smaller budget but a convoluted story that doesn’t allow him to flex his creativity. The screenplay (Dario Scardapane) structures the plot with too many moving parts. We’re introduced to a plethora of names and faces that never quite stick in our minds. They’re all placed in quiet back rooms spouting expositional dialogue – usually talking about characters that are off screen. We jump back and forth between Mexico City and El Paso, Texas, weaving between gang members, sex traffickers, orphans, corrupt real estate moguls, politicians, etc. It’s a lot of stuff for something that ultimately feels inconsequential.
The narrative enacts the common – and worn out – trope of men seeking revenge for injustices inflicted upon female characters. Both Alex and Vincent have ties to a young woman (Mia Sanchez) and a wealthy real estate tycoon (Monica Bellucci). What happens to them fuels their motivations. Alex decides to take his gun (and deteriorating mind) to those responsible. He moves up the power hierarchy, doing the work the FBI is too slow to perform. Vincent – along with fellow agents Linda (Taj Atwal) and Hugo (Harold Torres) – try to administer justice the right way while attempting to halt Alex’s wrath of destruction.
Neeson and Pearce are both fine actors, and having their characters face off against one another is a great way to create suspense. We see this only a few times. One of the best scenes has the two conversing over the phone, with Vincent trying to keep Alex on the line long enough to track his whereabouts. It’s these moments, where the actors can create and bounce off one another that make for dramatic high points. Sadly, we don’t get nearly enough of that. In its place are quick, overly edited action scenes. A shootout in a parking garage is heavily chopped up, cutting to random angles to generate excitement in a scene sorely lacking it. Things get even worse by the end, in which the plotting and character development appears to stop in midstride. Alex’s memory loss, Vincent’s case, and the themes of corruption all end abruptly. Loose ends are dealt with quickly, as if the film had no where else to go and rushed toward the credits.
Memory presents the paradox of doing a lot and achieving very little. It goes in many directions, inserting a lot of players who don’t have anything to do. What we do get is so ineffective that it leaves very little impact. Liam Neeson has been in so many of these action pictures that he is basically doing a cover of his own song. He, the cast, the crew, and the audience deserve better than this.