Memory stars Liam Neeson as a guy with a very particular set of skills… oh, you’ve gone. No, come back. He’s a hitman and it’s a one last job affair and…
It doesn’t sound very promising, does it? After all by this point (2022) Neeson has been in how many of these – since Taken reinvigorated his career in 2008 the list contains (at least) Taken 2 and Non-Stop and Taken 3 and Run All Night and The Commuter and Cold Pursuit, all pretty similar. A seemingly average guy at a very particular stage of life turns out to be the sort of man you don’t want to cross. Where Neeson went, an entire genre followed.
Thanks to Neeson’s style, his intense commitment to his roles, and the skill of the directors involved, many of his late-life actioners were pretty enjoyable. Looked at from that perspective, Memory isn’t bad at all if what you’re after is a sleek action thriller that’s comfortably familiar, made by people who know what they’re doing and acted by people who are good at this sort of thing.
Adding just the tiniest wrinkle to the usual formula is the fact that this hitman has early onset dementia and is losing his shit. Muscle memory is still OK; actual memory not quite so good. Alex Lewis (Neeson) is still massively capable but these days has taken to writing things on his arm because he can no longer trust his brain to keep a tally. A bit like Guy Pearce in Memento. And what do you know, here is Guy Pearce, playing the cop who starts out dealing in a case about the sex trafficking of underage girls from Mexico to the USA but ends up righteously chasing down this hitman who seems to have gone madly off piste. The hitman, meanwhile, is being chased down by the bad guys who paid him to shoot a trafficked young girl, something he has balked at doing for reasons of his own.
The film is a remake of the 2003 Netherlands film The Memory of a Killer, which also didn’t do much with the dementia strand, puzzlingly, but it also had good bones and a charismatic hitman character (Jan Decleir, in that case). What Memory also has in its favour is Martin Campbell as director, a man who knows how to lay on the gloss and how to direct action – he directed both GoldenEye and Casino Royale.
There are good actors in key positions, in particular Taj Atwal as the buddy cop sidekick to Guy Pearce’s Vincet Serra. Atwal’s Linda Amisted is not only a bright and empathetic presence but a corrective to The Memory of a Killer, which did feature female cops, but left them embarrassingly dangling with nothing to do.
Further down the table things get salty – Ray Stevenson as one of those ageing, gammony detectives who like to punch first and ask questions later, Ray Fearon as Lewis’s FBI boss, a cavilling, preening and compromised Person In Charge. And Monica Bellucci as a tough, evil-genius-mastermind-Bond-villain kind of gal, with tech bro ambitions to live for ever and the world in her pocket.
There is running around and gunplay. Cars explode. You already know that. And at a certain point the bad guy with some principles and the decent cop in a fix start working towards the same goal, not exactly teaming up as a double act – they exist in separate spheres of operation – but pointing in the same direction. There will be a “meeting”, one in which they will look into each other’s eyes and recognise, to some extent, themselves.
It’s an action movie but Campbell gives it a murky neo-noir edge, almost as if he were referencing that Arthur Penn/Gene Hackman thriller Night Moves, which also had its share of sexually active underage girls and disappointed older women with a booze problem.
The original film spawned two sequels, which were also based on novels by Jef Geeraerts, but Memory isn’t likely to. The focus there was more on the cops, and it was they who sailed on into the sequels; here, playing to the Taken fanbase, it’s more on the hitman, on Neeson, who must by now, at 70, be wondering how long he can keep this geri-action thing going.
Memory – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022