Liam Neeson has mastered the art of growling his lines out, reflective of the persona he has been developing since he dropped Taken on us, and the particular set of skills he unleashed on traffickers who threatened his daughter. Yes, he’s deviated from the norm with Silence and Ordinary Love, but Run All Night, A Walk Among Tombstones, The Marksman, The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, Honest Thief, etc. all find Neeson serving up an over-the-hill cop/assassin/soldier vibe while facing down a bad situation that only he seems aware of/capable of stopping. In Memory, Neeson’s Alex Lewis deals most accurately with his aging body, and in this case, his failing ability to remember.
One more wrinkle in the typical Neeson genre these days is that his character is usually not really good, but either longing to change or realizing that he has to atone for his sins. In this case, Lewis is an assassin for a criminal organization that may or may not be a cartel, who refuses to execute a child and finds himself up against the organization and the FBI. (Now, just for a moment’s amusement – let’s recognize that this guy kills people for business, but his moral compass causes him to protect a child and defend the dignity of a prostitute in a hotel simply because the drunk john she’s propositioning proves to be too loud. Apparently the church doesn’t have a monopoly on the hierarchy of sin; Liam Neeson vehicles have them, too!)
When Lewis refuses to murder a young girl who is in the protective custody of FBI Agent Vincent (Guy Pearce) but ends up involved in the investigation, Vincent and his partners (Harold Torres and Taj Atwal) begin tracking the bodies that Lewis and others are piling up. As Lewis investigates the connections behind those who hired him and the young woman, he realizes that there’s a bigger conspiracy at work that extends into law enforcement, covering up a trafficking ring that also involves issues with immigration.
It’s hard not to watch Memory and think of Pearce’s career-breaking film Memento, the film that also put Christopher Nolan on the map twenty years ago. Pearce’s Leonard Shelby knows next-to-nothing as the film opens, while Neeson’s Lewis begins to lose what he does know. They both write themselves clues on their arm – and both of them begin to question their methods and their own madness. But it allows them to explore their decisions from other angles, rather than living moment-by-moment without stopping to question “why.”
While Neeson is spinning out similar movies, this is his best since Tombstones, and certainly projects a greater awareness of social issues than his earlier films. It’s a secondary take on some of the issues raised in Marksman, but James Bond (and The Mask of Zorro) director Martin Campbell provides more depth in the development of the feelings around why Vincent and Lewis end up on the same page. It’s not fantastic, but definitely palatable – and even a little thought-provoking in a passing way.
I’m aware that Memory is a remake of the Belgian thriller, The Alzheimer Case, but the inflections are different with the American/Mexican border involved – and the growth of human trafficking. One can hope we would learn from our past and fight off the evil that threatens, but in the case of Memory, we’re reminded that the system is too often set up to justify sin and protect the rich.
It’s worth remembering the next time we consider making a selfish decision, or better yet, when we vote.