At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Memory “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Monica Bellucci, Harold Torres, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, Ray Stevenson, Louis Mandylor, Stella Stocker, Natalie Anderson, Atanas Srebrev/Runtime: 114 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that when the infamous slice of cinema that is the first Taken made its way to cinemas all the way back in the long gone year of 2008, its lead actor Liam Neeson found himself inadvertently entering into a second wind in his career. One that took the shape and form of becoming regarded in the land of movie magic as a lead who could excel in action/thriller films. As a result we see that throughout the vast majority of slices of cinema that he has been a part of in the time since then, the idea of the “Liam Neeson Action Flick” has become a fairly viable option in the land of movie magic for going on two decades with some doing better than others both critically and/or financially and even as its actor namesake has also still managed to find the time to take on a few notable recent exceptions that still prove his depth and range as a performer such as 2016’s criminally underseen Martin Scorsese religious persecution in Japan drama Silence or when he voiced a distinct kind of Giving Tree in the also released in 2016’s A Monster Calls to name a couple of noteworthy examples. With all of that in mind, and in the downright disastrous aftermath of the other Liam Neeson action flick that was released in 2022 Blacklight, we now come to the next installment in the Liam Neeson Action Pantheon, Memory from noted film helmer Martin Campbell (1995’s GoldenEye, 2006’s Casino Royale, and 2017’s The Foreigner). Yet whilst Neeson in this entry still most assuredly engages in the “time-honored traditions” of mowing down quite a few nefarious individuals with a special set of skills let alone scores of bullets and bombs there is also a few distinct touches to be found in this entry that help to distinguish it from a lot of the other run and gun action flicks that we have seen Neeson take on as of late. Namely that this slice of cinema is one that actually permits it’s lead to work out a few of his acting muscles for a change as well as the usual ones he uses when kicking some serious bad guy butt. As such yes this slice of cinema does have its fair share of flaws to be found throughout, but the end result is a slice of cinema that still proves to be a fairly engaging entry in the action thriller genre that you should definitely check out at least once.

The plot is as follows: An American remake of a 2003 slice of cinema in the thriller genre from Belgium known as The Alzheimer Case, this slice of cinema follows a quasi-sorta good bad guy by the name of Alex Lewis. A man who, among other attributes, is the kind of person you call in when you want a problematic individual in your life in some capacity to just simply….disappear. Put another way: Mr. Lewis is a member of a certain group known as hitmen and amongst the people in that group he is very much so one of the best of the best when it comes to what he does. At least that was until recently. You see I guess I forgot to mention one teeny tiny little detail about Alex. Namely that he is in the middle of what can best be determined to be the early stages of a little disease known as Alzheimer’s. As a result, he is slowly beginning to get a bit messy with his kills to say nothing of being unable to recall the crucial things that will help stay ahead of the law or worse a bullet to the head. Yet despite being on medication that is helping keeping the symptoms at bay for a little bit, we see that our hero is still very much aware of what path he will eventually go down with this disease. Of course adding even further turmoil to his life is the fact that not only is his memory seriously starting to fail him, but so is the internal wall which has been holding back a literal wave of resentment in regards to the lifetime of murders and other bad choices he has chosen to partake in. Suffice it to say then that, following a refusal to fulfill the second part of his proverbial “one last assignment” due to a hidden code of morals, we see our hero start to see the threads for an intricate and deadly conspiracy involving a powerful business figure begin to emerge. Thus with seemingly no other options available to him, we see our hero decide to deal with things himself and start systematically wiping out key people in the Texas criminal underbelly even though it puts him in the crosshairs of some dangerous people, including the aforementioned slimy business executive as well as her truly deranged and out for blood family. Meanwhile we see that an FBI agent by the name of Vincent Serra is, with the aid of a pair of fellow officers, attempting to figure out just who is whacking these people left and right. Thus with this dogged and determined Fed and seemingly literally the entirety of the Lone Star State’s criminal underworld gunning for him can our hero make things right or will he forget to watch his back at just the wrong moment and find himself with a bullet in his head? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now when you take the aforementioned plot synopsis for this slice of cinema just based on the surface then I can definitely see how this film is easily one that deploys exactly what audience members by this point in time should be familiar with Liam Neeson engaging in. By that I of course mean things go boom, slimy henchmen are bumped off viscerally yet also efficiently, and our main character has no qualms about annihilating every single person in this criminal hierarchy. With that being said however, it should be noted that the complete cinematic experience that we are getting with this film is not just content with giving us a film that is the aforementioned items and no more and no less. As a result, we see that this slice of cinema is very much closer in thematic tone to a crime procedural like Law and Order and/or NCIS than just a run of the mill run and gun slice of cinema. Now yes it should be said that choosing to compare this slice of cinema to a crime show you would see on network TV is by no means a ding against this slice of cinema’s screenplay nor its talented scribe Dario Scardapane. With that being said, it does also showcase the limits of what we ultimately get with this film since the scope of the film is not what people may think of when they think of the scope of what constitutes a “Liam Neeson Action Movie.” The reason for this is because this slice of cinema is one that chooses to split the narrative up between a pair of distinct fronts that are going after the same menace thus resulting in Guy Pearce and Liam Neeson being de facto co-heroes in this. As a result, we see that even though Neeson gets to engage in a lot more of the brutal action whilst operating outside legal boundaries, we see that Pearce’s character take part in a lot more in terms of detective work whilst also staying more within the framework of the law. Yet even in the chunk of the narrative delegated to Liam Neeson, we see that the film does a fairly good job of making sure it’s not just action beats set up with quite a bit in terms of eye-rolling dialogue. Instead, this slice of cinema makes the choice to actually show to an extent Neeson’s character’s mental slide and the conundrums that come up because of it. Heck there is a point in this movie where we watch as he views the morning news and actually wondering if a homicide that they are reporting on was one he is responsible for.

Suffice it to say that following multiple movies that view Liam Neeson as the proverbial man with a distinct skill set, this slice of cinema brilliantly switches things up by yes still letting him kick butt, but then having him question if he did it to the right person let alone if it even occurred to begin with. As a result, we see this distinct twist being exactly the thing this slice of cinema needs as it goes a long way to blending together Neeson’s action skills alongside his wonderful dramatic flair he engaged in beautifully in such films as Schindler’s List or Michael Collins from 1996. Thus neither side of who Liam Neeson is as a performer is left to the wayside here which is only a benefit to his co-stars who actually are quite solid in their respective roles. Indeed there is one moment in particular that I feel is the best proof possible for how good this slice of cinema is at getting its lead to work alongside his co-stars. That being during an uncommon face to face back and forth between Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce (who alongside Monica Bellucci actually does manage to do fairly good work here in this slice of cinema though that’s not entirely a surprise given their dependability as performers), there is an extremely emotional moment for Neeson and yet rather than half ass it, Neeson plays it beautifully. Suffice it to say that while this slice of cinema does give audiences the Liam Neeson who kicks butt and takes down names much later, it also by the same token is also wanting to remember the Liam Neeson who actually was a fairly accomplished dramatic actor as well. As a result, this slice of cinema feels like it kind of issues a challenge for any future movie that Neeson might wish to take on for how boldly it shows that there is more sides to Liam Neeson as an actor than just running and gunning or issuing death threats to kidnappers over the phone that you know will be fulfilled by film’s end.

All in all I won’t lie to you dear reader the 2022 slice of cinema that is Memory is one that may not be even close to full to the brim of action spectacle and flair on the level of other recent slices of action cinema (also starring Liam Neeson) such as The Ice Road or Honest Thief. With that being said however, the reason for that is because this slice of cinema seems to have made the choice to exchange that for being a thriller that a lot more in terms of being low-key, solemn, and fairly more contemplative and brooding respectively. Suffice it to say dear reader that this exchange is not only immensely appreciated, but it also has the effect of permitting a fair degree more of Liam Neeson’s talent as an actor to be brought to the forefront than a lot of other slices of a similar ilk that he has done would’ve been willing to. No this is by no means a riveting and thrilling from beginning to end kind of film, but this slice of cinema does utilize beats like those in order to strengthen the nuanced narrative at the heart of this. As a result, I can see a film like this either not being in a Liam Neeson fan’s wheelhouse or being just the thing for them. Indeed it isn’t unfair by any stretch to say that this slice of cinema can be viewed as a bit of an experiment which, if successful, could see its core components be further utilized in future Liam Neeson cinematic outings. With that established, the slice of cinema that is being unfurled for you in this is most assuredly a step back on the right path of Neeson since it, unlike other recent entries, allows him to bring his natural screen presence and charisma to the screen. Indeed here lately we have learned that Liam Neeson has been pondering whether he should step away from making action films and try to make some other different kinds of films again. Thankfully, Memory is a good albeit flawed sign that if he wants to continue to make them then he can still entertain audiences with them. He just has to make sure that the script allows him to blend together both facets of who he is as a performer because it is with slices of action cinema that we see the Neeson that first became an action icon all those years ago. On a scale of 1-5 I give Memory “2022” a solid 3 out of 5.

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