It all started in January 2009. The movie? Taken. The movie star? Liam Neeson. That surprise hit created a new, palpable career path for the Irish thespian. Since then Neeson has starred in no less than fifteen actioners of a similar ilk. His newest, Memory, adds a twist to varying, mostly diminishing results. Written by Dario Scardapane, based on the 2003 Belgian film The Memory of a Killer and Jef Geeraerts’ source novel, and directed by Martin Campbell, it stars Neeson as Alex, a contract killer who finds himself a target after refusing to complete a hit. In one fell swoop our lead suffers from both a bout of empathy and an escalating case of memory loss.

As all corners converge on Alex he finds a potential ally in crusading FBI agent Vincent (Guy Pearce). Behind the bad men is there quickly revealed to be a villainess in the form of a real estate magnate (Monica Bellucci) and her ne’er-do-well son (Josh Taylor). Pearce is doing solid work here, mining pathos at every turn. Bellucci isn’t given enough to do, but makes the most of it. Neeson, somewhat ironically, is the weakest link. If still capable as ever, there does seem to be a pronounced lack of gusto in the turn. His antihero is rife with cognitive difficulty, moral dread, and actual physical danger. Yet it all plays as perfunctory. Perhaps it’s because this is the fifteenth incarnation in the last thirteen years.

Or maybe it’s that the mysteries at play in Memory are never all too mysterious. We are quite aware of what twists and tricks will occur early on. Too early, in fact. Take, for instance, the presence of capable character actor Ray Stevenson as the gruff local cop. Without outright spoiling it, the moment he’s onscreen we can anticipate what he’ll do next. Campbell is a great filmmaker, which shows in spots: Pearce’s introductory scene is gripping and dramatic, not to mention well-designed and choreographed; a sequence involving Neeson’s Alex being thrust into a parking garage shootout is exciting and a bit surprising. Unfortunately these moments come early and are never matched again.

Much has been made of this late-career swing from Neeson. Honestly too much. During the same stretch he’s made pictures like Silence, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Chloe, Widows, and A Monster Calls, a diverse slate that often gets overlooked. He remains a performer of impressive range. And while Memory does not fully succeed in its goals, it’s yet another reminder of Neeson’s sheer presence––a movie star if ever there were one. Watching him act against Pearce is also a brief delight. One hopes for another film to expand their potential chemistry. Memory may not be all that memorable (I apologize), but Neeson remains as enduring as ever.

Memory is now in wide release.

Grade: C

No more articles