Memory, the new Liam Neeson film directed by Martin Campbell, has a doozy of a high concept. Neeson plays an assassin with Alzheimer's. A premise like this could yield a thoughtful reflection on what matters in life. Sadly, the screenplay by Dario Scardapane lacks any depth, humor, or even surprises. Memory isn't the worst film in the recent run of Neeson action films but it could have been so much more. This is especially true given the presence of Guy Pearce.
Pierce plays FBI agent Vincent Serra whose path crosses Neeson's Alex Lewis. Alex is hired to clean up a mess and his target is a 13-year-old-girl who Vincent saved from sex trafficking. Alex refuses to kill a kid, trying to do something right before he loses control of his mind. Vincent sees that Alex isn't the killer and maybe trying to help the FBI take down who is behind the order. The central villain is played by the gorgeous but under-utilized Monica Bellucci.
Memory wants to tackle a lot. It addresses child abuse, trafficking, racism, aging, memory loss and so much more. All of these elements deserve a more thoughtful take but are simply plot points for a routine thriller here. Campbell is capable of some good action directing, see Casino Royale. In Memory, there is no style or verve to the direction. Things proceed with a workmanlike orchestration. The action scenes are as standard as they can be.
Neeson's performance here is fine, even moving in a few moments. I do like that he gets to embrace his aging here rather than trying to cover it up with clever editing, as in most of his recent films. Pearce gives a committed performance as well. The movie is often at its best when focused on Vincent's determination to find justice for this little girl. His partners in this, Harold Torres and Taj Atwal, are also giving strong performances even if their characters are written as stereotypes.
Memory has flashes of a good movie in it but the script often falls back on plot points over character beats. When Pearce and Neeson are given moments to add depth to their characters, the film works well. Neeson in particular gives his best performance in a while. He is able to carry the weight of so much pain and bloodshed just within his eyes here. It is a shame that the screenplay often uses his condition to heighten the tension of a scene than to actually explore what it is like to be losing one's cognitive function in such a dangerous profession. With such a unique, high-concept premise Memory should feel far less routine than it does.