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Liam Neeson’s Taken era is memorable, but his new revenge film Memory isn’t

In hindsight, it’s remarkable how long a shadow is Taken shot. It’s been 14 years since director Pierre Morel redefined Liam Neeson’s place in cinema with his 2008 film, which pitted the dramatic actor against all odds as a former CIA agent and fighting powerhouse. Since then, too many action movies starring Neeson have followed in the footsteps of a family dance. His peaceful domestic life is shattered when something is taken from him: his daughter is kidnapped (Taken), as well as his ex-wife (Relentless search 2), who is later killed in Taken 3. Or his son is killed (cold chase), lose your job (the traveler), or his family moved without him (A stranger). In each case, a long buried history of clinically effective violence is unearthed, and for about two hours, Neeson makes the criminal element feel sorry for thinking it would be easy to go after a guy in the sixties. Memory is the last of those movies, and at first it looks like it might change the formula. Then he slowly assumes a tired expression.

Memory begins with a slight inversion of Neeson’s acting formula: this time he’s one of the bad guys, more or less. Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a world-class assassin who takes jobs from some of the worst people in the world. When asked to do the one thing he never asks an action hero to do: kill a child, Neeson turns on his employer. As he becomes a vigilante determined to make them pay, both sides are after him, with criminals and law enforcement pursuing him along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. His main pursuer: FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce), who is after the same guys as Alex.

MemoryThe big difference is that Alex is in a race against time. His health deteriorates and he suffers from memory loss, warning signs of serious cognitive decline to come. That means he’s not just looking to punish a crime syndicate for crossing the line; he is symbolically trying to atone for a lifetime of ill-gotten gains while he is still able to take meaningful action.

Photo: Rico Torres/Briarcliff Entertainment

Itself, Memory it’s a tepid, skillfully directed thriller. Journeyman director Martin Campbell has delivered thrilling action sequences in films ranging from the extraordinary (the 2006 James Bond reboot Royal Casino) to surprising (Jackie Chan’s 2017 Taken riff the stranger) to forget (the 2021 Maggie Q vehicle the protégé). As for the action itself, Memory it’s decidedly a minor work by Campbell, who this time seems more interested in ineffective melodrama than physical conflict. The promise of any Liam Neeson action movie is that Liam Neeson will commit shocking acts of brutality, but Memory follows Alex as he threatens many people with violence and only commits it occasionally.

Neeson reads as if operating in the same desperate skill mode he originally honed. Taken. However, in Memory, the thrill is gone: its intensity is no longer surprising, and while Neeson is committed to staying on screen and present during most of his character’s stunts, his limitations seem more apparent than usual, given the clear blocking of Campbell’s shots and clean cuts. that tie together the movie’s action scenes so well. Without a doubt, the film suffers from the fact that these two men are what’s more good at their jobs, so the commitment of one overshadows the shortcomings of the others.

More convincing is Guy Pearce’s weary Agent Serra, who sometimes acts as the de facto protagonist when MemoryThe script requires Alex to disappear for a period of time. Serra’s investigation into Alex’s criminal employers is the only place Memory he makes anything approaching a compelling statement, even if it’s a hackneyed statement about the institution of law enforcement and how it is used to enforce the status quo rather than find justice.

Guy Pearce in an FBI jacket wields a gun and flashlight in the movie Memory.

Photo: Rico Torres/Briarcliff Entertainment

MemoryThe most compelling aspect of ultimately lies outside of the film itself, if read as a meta-commentary on Neeson’s action work. As Alex, Neeson plays a man who knows he can’t continue to be the kind of person Neeson has played in so many movies. The movie plays better, but only slightly, if viewers consider comments Neeson made earlier in 2021 about being ready to retire from these types of movies after a few more (presumably Memory and his next thriller Punishment).

In many of these films, Neeson has been an unlikely avatar of the wrath of upper-class white men. The appeal of the twist that ended his career as an action star is a direct result of the dissonance between his polite demeanor and the violence these characters commit. His sonorous voice, which has led to a long acting career and frequent auditions in mentor roles, does not belie the brutality to which all these characters eventually give in. According to this reading, Neeson’s action films are about the order that whiteness and wealth have imposed on the world, the male sense of entitlement to that order, and the violence that lurks beneath, directed at anyone who tries to disturb. It all started with a movie called Takenand it is no coincidence that most of these films are starring a man who feels robbed.

Liam Neeson walks through tall grass with an assault rifle in Memory

Photo: Rico Torres/Briarcliff Entertainment

It’s funny, because these movies are never about stealing property, they’re about losing other people and losing status. At stake is the life of the loved ones of its multiple characters, but often also the feeling of possession and control that these men feel over their lives. Everyone has a sense of belonging that extends to their family members, their jobs, and their right to stop enforcing the law and killing people.

Memory It’s not Liam Neeson’s last action movie, and it won’t be the one that defines him. But it’s worth considering, as his tenure of mannered cinematic revenge slowly comes to an end. In this case, it’s a character suddenly trying to atone for the man he once was, just before his own story evaporates from his mind. It’s not very convincing, even if Alex Lewis admits he was a villain, Memory it still builds on the thrill of seeing this villain unleashed. There’s little to suggest Alex Lewis is that different from Bryan in the Taken movies, or any of Neeson’s other violent avatars. It’s worth remembering this era of cinema, and all that he says about specifically male fantasies and rages. But not necessarily worth remembering Memory the same.

Memory hits theaters April 29.

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