Martin Campbell’s Memory is a poorer and troper lovechild of Memento and Sicario when seen out of context. A memory-impaired hitman turns on a prominent client who leads a child trafficking ring from behind a detention camp on the US-Mexico border. He scribbles on his arms to keep track of the details of his contracts. Memory is barely a memorable film, what with a haunted FBI agent (played by the hero of Memento), a hot-headed Mexican coworker, a complicit Texan law enforcement system, and Monica Bellucci as an evil genius. The film is a Hollywood adaptation of a Belgian film based on the novel De Zaak Alzheimer. It’s also not really original. The fact that so much of it is based on the assassin’s rigorous no-kids-killed code reminds me of the central tension in In Bruges. The hitman-assisting-cops motif is reminiscent of Batman’s superhuman vigilantism.
Memory, on the other hand, is a moving film when viewed in context. It stars Liam Neeson, who appears to be portraying the most Liam Neeson character possible at first glance. He’s cold-blooded, anguished, and jaded, punishing American civilization’s misdeeds with moral precision on his own. The premise, however, has more to it than meets the (weary) eye. The plot is driven by a sense of self-referential anxiety. This film is similar to Liam Neeson’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent in that it is serious rather than satirical.
If Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for channeling his frail oldness into The Father, a dementia-afflicted drama, Liam Neeson accomplishes the same in a genre he has come to represent.
Memory’s Alzheimer’s-affected action is laced with the actor’s age:
Neeson plays a guy who wishes to retire from the assassin life due to his deteriorating health. The film begins with his character, Alex, completing a job in a Mexican hospital without incident, only to discover that he has missed a critical element. He also asks the woman in his bed if she’s sure he was next to her all night when he views a news presentation of a kill job. He is unsure as well. His reflexes haven’t slowed, but he’s having trouble with muscle memory.
The fact that a shattered Alex retires only to be dragged back into the world – a fractured mind stimulates a larger conscience – provides a picture of an experienced actor who has always been thought to be greater than the work he chooses to do. Alex’s predicament is almost a confession about Liam Neeson’s abusive relationship with his trademark revenge-action thrillers. Perhaps he wants out, but the way Neeson does a job that has both defined and depleted him retains a sense of integrity – similar to how Alex draws a line when it comes to the murder of children.
As a result, we witness insurance in the form of other like-minded characters in Memory, such as Guy Pearce’s FBI agent Vincent, who is both Alex’s spiritual surrogate and a protagonist in his own right. Vincent and his associates serve as a crutch for an actor who is too elderly to handle this genre on his own, as well as a protagonist who is too old to overthrow the system. Alex makes errors, is injured, appears to be far from invincible, and is careless with collateral damage. He is incapable of safeguarding the few people he cares about. He can’t solve everything on his own any longer, and Neeson demonstrates enormous heart by eroding his own caricature.
Memory transcends its narrative tone and becomes a social message as a result of his emotional performance. It’s about more than Alex and his faded action-hero image in the end. The picture is elevated by the internal tensions in El Paso — between the local police force and the FBI, between capitalism and justice, and between the furious Mexican cops and their Washington-fearing American colleagues. The author is unafraid to be blunt and pessimistic about the state of US border control.
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