Memory Review

Memory Movie Poster

Hollywood remakes of foreign films usually go the way that you would expect. Take a bad flick like Delivery Man about a frequent sperm donor tracked down by his dozens of biological children, an English remake of the much superior, Québécois, French-language original called Starbuck. Even worse, Ken Scott directed both versions, and I can only imagine the pressure that was put on him to somehow reproduce what worked so well initially, but with Vince Vaughn instead. Ugh. Let’s take a look at a successful remake. The amazing French dramedy Intouchables was terribly renamed here as The Intouchables by some marketing moron who doesn’t understand grammar or how to translate foreign words. The American remake became The Upside with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, and it forges its own path from its setting and culture. Liam Neeson has played so many heavies, agents and men with “a particular set of skills” in recent years that I have lost count. Earlier this year, the mediocre Blacklight added nothing spectacular to that list, so I didn’t expect much when I saw the trailer for Memory. Something stirred in my own mind, and I realized that this was a remake of the interesting Belgian movie (De zaak Alzheimer) about an aging hit man released in the states as The Memory of a Killer. As with Intouchables, this version benefits considerably by adapting to American issues, shifting the drama to our Southern border. Memory stands out from the other Liam Neeson action movies because it finally addresses how age affects even the deadliest among us and points out that even a talented hit man knows when it’s time to put away the gun.

Director Martin Campbell notched some wins with titles like GoldenEye, Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro while also taking responsibility for stinkers like Green Lantern and The Protégé. Together with frequent TV writer Dario Scardapane, Campbell pulls off one of those rare tasks of breathing new life into a foreign film. De zaak Alzheimer/The Memory of a Killer was itself an adaptation of a novel by Jef Geeraerts called De zaak Alzheimer, or The Alzheimer Affair. It centered on the aftermath of a hit man refusing to kill a child while also dealing with the progressive effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although Memory takes its main cues from the original, the plot couldn’t be timelier with the focus on child trafficking along the Southern border in Texas. Hit man Alex Lewis (Neeson) takes his orders from Mauricio (Lee Boardman) in Mexico. Alex hasn’t revealed his advancing Alzheimer’s, but he did express his desire to retire. Nevertheless, Mauricio sends Alex on a job to El Paso. After the first hit, Alex learns that his second target for the job is a Mexican girl who was pimped out to wealthy Americans by her father. When Alex refuses to kill the girl, Mauricio retaliates and two FBI agents (Guy Pearce and Taj Atwal) and a Mexican detective (Harold Torres) investigate the trail of bodies. Alex gets caught between the bad guys, the law and the truth about the people behind the sex trafficking.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Neeson when he’s at his best. It’s just that these similar roles can’t be challenging for him anymore. He has used so many weapons in his films that he could probably serve double duty as an armorer on his next project. The only way to separate the latest character from Bryan Mills in the Taken series is a solid plot or unusual circumstances. Memory contains both. Pearce stands out as detective Vincent Serra, and he melts into this role as nicely as he assumes an American accent. With a weaker lead actor, Pearce would be the star, especially with his character’s compassion for the abused girl and his own sad backstory. Ironically, Pearce dealt with unusual memory issues in the classic Memento. Torres plays a crucial role, and I would have liked to learn more about his character. Atwal seems too playful for an FBI agent; I suspect that’s just the way that she was written. Ray Stevenson grabs your attention as a tough Texas detective who doesn’t like FBI agents. Monica Bellucci doesn’t get enough screen time as the head of an organization that might just be corrupt and involved with the child trafficking.

The action scenes and hits punctuate the drama. They never let you settle because there could always be more attacks or Alex may need to act to save himself or others. For Neeson, many of these moves must be muscle memory from past roles. When Alex smashes a guy’s noggin in just a few seconds, I believe that Neeson could probably do the same at this point. The brutal gunshots and violence reflect the world in which Alex travels. A graphic strangling and intense throat-cutting scene highlight the key work from the special effects technicians. The matter-of-fact violence can affect anyone at any time, and even Alex collects his share of bruises and damage in this grittier, dirtier version of the original.

The filmmakers first reveal Alex’s progressing Alzheimer’s disease when he forgets where he put his car keys. Were they in the visor, ignition or pocket? That’s a smart way to draw you in because everyone has had that same sort of episode no matter the age. Later on, Alex reveals that he uses another technique to remind himself of important facts. He writes them on his arm and covers them up with his sleeve. I chuckled because Pearce did the same thing in Memento. I looked it up, and although Alzheimer’s usually takes a slower path of progression than other versions of dementia, every patient is different. Alex doesn’t forget a lot, so when it frightens him, you know that it’s bad. One crucial slip costs him dearly as it did in the original, and I’m glad that they retained this plot point. Vincent perhaps delivers the most important dialogue about the subject of memory when he explains how a young witness was not able to pick out a drunk driver from a lineup.

I don’t expect Neeson to stop playing heavies any more than I expect Nicolas Cage to give up acting. It’s in their blood, and as long as there are bills to pay, there will be filmmakers who want Neeson to play in this sandbox again. I just hope that the settings and subject matter separate those future films from the others as did this timely story of the child trafficking of foreign nationals. I forget many details from the hundreds of movies that I’ve watched and maybe even some of the movies themselves. Do yourself a favor, and if you see Memory, look back in time at the first incarnation of this interesting angle on aging in a career that doesn’t allow mistakes or a conscience.

Memory Movie Shot
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