- Release Date: 29/04/2022
- Cast: Liam Neeson, Guy Pierce, Monica Bellucci, Ray Stevenson
- Director: Martin Campbell
I have been a Liam Neeson fan ever since I was blown away by Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008). It was more or less a benchmark for me and my friends during our college days and every time there was a new action film on the blocks, there was just one question — is it as good as Taken? Neeson starred in a series of sequels to Taken that got progressively bad. Bolstered by the success of Taken, Other directors used the basic formulae of the film in their own stories that unfolded in towns, planes, trains, trucks, and even an icy hell. Neeson maintained his gusto in these renditions and in each of these films; he was by far the best thing about it all. Sadly, with Memory, I feel that the character and persona of Neeson that was born with Taken have finally reached its end. When he was killed in the film, I felt like it marked as much of an end of the onscreen character as it did of the recurring characters that Neeson has been playing in different variations ever since Brian Mills threatened his daughter’s kidnapper’s on the phone and delivered on his threat.
In Memory, Neeson plays a skilled killer, Alex Lewis who is hired by the nefarious Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) to seal off all the loose ends that point to a heinous crime that her son has committed. Things turn sour for Alex when he has to kill a child as part of the contract. He decides not to kill her leading to his bosses sending in replacement killers. Alex suffers from a degenerative brain condition and is unable to remember things properly. This leads to some interesting situations as he lands in one frying pan after the other as he tries to bail out of his contract and also ensure the safety of the child.
Vincent (Guy Pierce) is hot on the tails of a human trafficking racket and all his clues lead him to the same child that Alex was trying to save. As he dwells deeper into the case, he realizes that she is a small clog in a large machine that involves some of the biggest names in the city. As Vincent tries to understand the game and identify the players, Alex takes out one player after another for his own reasons. Vincent is confused if Alex is on his side or only tying off loose ends for the actual bad guys.
Memory has enough in terms of story and intrigue to keep the audiences interested and invested but my problem with the film was in its treatment and how the story was approached. A large chunk of it was about men talking and that too in the most generic manner with no novelty or creativity infused in the sequences to merit some interest and intrigue of the viewers. Martin Campbell is known for his creativity, pacing, style and physical treatment of the action sequences but none of those elements could be seen in his presentation of Memory. The pacing of the film was another problem for me. There were sequences like the one in which Alex visits his brother that I felt could have easily been edited as it added nothing to the story. The proceedings could have been sped up a little and that would not only add a much-needed sense of urgency to the film but would also help elevate the thrill elements in the story that otherwise reeled under the slow development of the plot.
The action sequences in the film were mellowed down to match the realistic tone and setting of the film and its aging leading man. While it might make perfect sense owing to what the director was going for but I have to ask if it was a good idea. We associate Liam Neeson actioners with elaborate set pieces and the man getting to flex his fighting muscles even if it was shot and edited in a manner that left no room for enjoying the action in long, wide, and expansive takes. If not the action, atleast the planning and execution of the action could have been a little more elaborate to incite a certain amount of thrill and interest. Unfortunately, that is not the case here and that results in the action of the film being one of its weakest elements and somewhat boring.
The next issue I had with the film was very personal and it may not be much of an issue for the other viewers. I have a certain image of Liam Neeson and I have held on to that image of his for as long as I can remember. To me, he is an uber-cool killing machine who doesn’t put a single wrong step. He is skilled with weapons. He is an exemplary planner and he is a smooth talker who can disarm anyone with his baritone and choice of words. Shockingly for me, in Memory, all of that is gone. He is a stuttering old man with ruffled hair and a mouth full of yellow degenerating teeth. He looks like someone who is on the verge of falling to his death every step of the way. Even the assassinations that he is sown pulling off didn’t work for me as he didn’t feel like a man who was capable of pulling off such feats. I walked out of the theater with a broken heart after witnessing the man who I revered after watching films like Taken and A Walk Among the Tombstones, disintegrated to such an extent that I hardly recognized him. While it may have been a creative choice owing to the medical condition that the character was shown suffering from but that didn’t do much for the story or the intrigue and could have been avoided altogether.
Guy Pierce was good and was in many ways the actual leading man of the film. He did enough to not only sell his character but also his frustration and bottled-up anger of it which did wonders for the story and the drama that Campbell was trying to drive at with his storyline. Monica Bellucci is always a pleasure to watch on screen but here she had precious little to do. Thankfully even in that minuscule appearance she leaves an impact but is grossly undermined by some terrible writing of her character.
Last but not the least, the film suffers greatly due to the absence of a solid antagonist. The villains in the film are there just to be taken out by Alex. They have no character, they have no panache and they have absolutely no fear factor associated with them. When you have a flawed protagonist who is trying to get ahead of his medical condition, the idea of having a strong villain is always welcome as it unquestionably ups the ante for the protagonist and enhances the tension in the narrative. Martin Campbell somehow missed that point completely and gave us villains whose names I didn’t care to remember. They were that generic and were dispatched off with such ease by the protagonist that they never felt threatening or memorable.
To sum it all up, Martin Campbell was one man who could have revitalized Neeson’s declining career and could have made a solid actioner that was stylish, was laced with potent drama, had interesting characters and above all, spellbinding action set pieces that are synonymous with Martin Campbell films. Unfortunately, he fails miserably on all counts and ends up with a film that does nothing to resurrect a spiraling Neeson career. This is at best an average film that boasts of a stellar cast that just hangs around.