‘Memory’ review: Liam Neeson launches another action film, and this one hits the spot

In a dimly lit, sparsely populated health club, a bearded man in sweat and over-the-ear headphones grinds it on a treadmill overlooking the parking lot. A hooded figure emerged from the pouring rain and gloomy night, continued to approach the window and pulled out a silenced gun—and just like that, the man running was a dead man, curled up on the gym floor.

It’s an elegantly constructed final scene of violence, and it’s one of the many moments when the fast-paced revenge thriller “Memory” proves to be a little more than just another B-movie action starring nearly 70-year-old Liam Neeson, who still able to cut to the chase by reading sharp lines and still defeating cocky henchmen half his age in hand to hand combat. (When will these minions learn!)

In the 14 years since the first “Taken” film with Neeson as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills telling his daughter’s captors of “a very special skill,” cementing Neeson’s status as an all-time Action Film Icon, the great Irish thespian has appeared in nearly 50 films, alternating between prestige projects and often entertaining but fairly disposable action fare. Not a year goes by that we don’t see another poster with the steel-eyed Neeson holding a gun, with slogans such as:

  • TAKING BACK YOUR LIFE (“Unknown”)
  • NEVER STEAL A SECOND CHANCE OF HUMANS (“Honest Thief”)
  • JUSTICE COME TO HIM (“Sniper”)
  • LIFE IS ON LINE (“The Commuter”)

Now comes “Memory”, and the poster tells us “THIS MIND IS EASY. HER HEART IS CLEAR.” At first blush, this may seem like another on Neeson’s long assembly line of actioners—but wait. Neeson’s cast includes first-rate talents like Monica Bellucci, Guy Pearce and Ray Stevenson, the director is veteran Martin Campbell, who gave us one of the best Bond films ever in “Casino Royale” (2006), and it’s a remake of the Belgian gem 2003 “The Memory of a Killer,” so there are signs suggesting this could be something more than any other formula vehicle.

The signs are worth paying attention to.

Alex Lewis from Leeson is a obligatory assassin with a mysterious past who struggles with worsening memory loss. After FBI Agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) saves a 13-year-old immigrant girl named Beatriz (Mia Sanchez) from a sex trafficking ring, the evil and powerful crime boss Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) orders Alex to clear all dead ends. who would tie him to the ring—including the young girl. Alex doesn’t hurt the kids, but he doesn’t hesitate to bring out all sorts of bad guys trying to finish HER. But when Beatriz is killed, Alex isn’t sure if she pulled the trigger. Meanwhile, we cannot confirm the loyalty of local police detective Ray Stevenson. It’s a tangled film noir web they weave!

As Alex’s memories continue to betray him, he makes an alliance with Vincent, and it’s a fine callback to Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” as Alex scribbles pertinent information on his body, just as Pearce’s Leonard did in that 2000 neo-noir classic. Neeson never calls in his performance, but he’s especially invested this time, playing a man who can be a pure killing machine one moment, and get lost like a child the next. Pearce and Bellucci make great supporting roles, and 78-year-old Campbell is proving that he can still direct a slick, engrossing thriller.

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