Academy-Award nominee and major action star as of 2009, Liam Neeson has seen his stature as a major action hero wain a bit over the last half a decade. With films like Taken and Non-Stop grossing over $200 million worldwide nearly a decade ago, his more recent works have come in at nearly a 1/10 of those numbers, despite the amount of films being churned out. Since 2020, the star has now released five action films with only one of them, The Ice Road, premiering on streaming. For the first year of the pandemic, when theaters were just barely skating by, it was films like Honest Thief and The Marksman holding those businesses afloat. This year alone has already seen the release of the shockingly inept, Blacklight, a clear low point in Neeson’s career. Thankfully, Memory is a cut above Neeson’s more recent actioners and plays more like an ensemble thriller.
Based on the 2003 Belgian film, The Memory of a Killer, Liam Neeson plays — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — an aging hitman, Alex Lewis, looking to retire from his life of crime. However, this time it’s because Alex is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. When Alex refuses a hit on a young immigrant girl, he finds himself on the run from the same crime syndicate that specializes in child sex trafficking that hired him. Alex is also being pursued by the FBI, lead by Guy Pearce’s good-guy Vincent Serra.
Memory starts off on a high note. We see Neeson’s character dressed in scrubs, heading into a hospital in Guadalajara, Mexico. He follows two obnoxious thugs where one is visiting his sick mother. Neeson sneaks into the hospital room with the sick mother and kills the thug with a razor wire as his sick mother watches from her bed. It’s this swift, brutal act of violence that director Martin Campbell captures so well.
What helps elevates Memory from the other Neeson films is Director Martin Campbell, who not only reinvented the Bond franchise twice with 1995’s Goldeneye and 2006’s Casino Royale but also a classic cinema hero in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro. He did also direct the infamous Green Lantern, but ever since that debacle, Campbell has been churning out sturdy, old-fashioned b-thrillers such as The Foreigner and The Protégée. Campbell adds a slick sophistication to the film where the script’s muddled plotting tends to lack.
Campbell rounds up a strong ensemble cast as well. Say what you will about the films he’s been in, but Neeson never phones in a performance and he’s fully committing here. Neeson brings his usual action star persona, but has a raw vulnerability that makes this character more interesting than the past 7 Neeson action films. Even if the film humorously tries to ask us to accept Neeson’s character is from Texas.
Guy Pearce makes for a compelling straight man character, as one of the few good cops left trying to bring down this extensive trafficking ring that goes beyond the Mexican border. There’s even a fun nod to Memento apart from Pearce’s casting. Monica Bellucci has fun playing a clear riff on Ghislaine Maxwell. Ray Stevenson chews the scenery as a hard-ass detective.
Whenever the script requires the actors to stand around and spout blatant exposition, it’s the actors that make it digestible. As much as Campbell and his cast pull their weight, it’s the script that falters. For every witty banter or memorable exchange, there is a convoluted plot development or banal section of dialogue. The film also ends with an echoing thud as the film attempts to wrap up it’s loose ends within a matter of just a couple minutes.
Memory is a step above most recent Liam Neeson actioners. Director Martin Campbell adds a slick sense of style to the material that’s backed by a strong performance from Neeson. Even if the convoluted plotting and weak ending threaten to derail it, this is an entertaining and compelling enough thriller.