“Justice comes down to him.” From The Marksman
Vigilante revenge is riddled through American thriller films, and nobody does it better than Liam Neeson. In an interview, he believes audiences love seeing the big old guy kicking butt for the rest of us stuck home from covid, retirement, or whatever.
In Martin Campbell’s Memory (the 78-year-old Casino Royale director like Neeson still has his mojo), he plays Alex Lewis, a contract killer telling his sponsors he’s done, but they refuse to accept his offer. Because his current contract involves murdering a 13-year-old girl, Beatriz (Mia Sanchez), he’s not going to do it, period! Per usual, Neeson’s hardcore vigilante has his limits: Involving children is a non-no, and it’s an immediate softener for the audience. Plus, such a code allows the essential Neeson to emerge—a good guy underneath his “special skills.”
This refinement of past assignments, this surfacing of a standard that brooks no trafficking in young people, is a moral advance for an immoral assassin. The audience immediately sides with the hit man and shows no sympathy for the rich people doing the reprehensible trafficking. Memory’s loaded with sympathy for Alex, especially when he connects with FBI agent Vincent, played by Guy Pearce (a nice touch as we remember him in that classic thriller, Memento). Both are tough men on the opposite sides of the law, who have a sympathetic side that ingratiates without sapping the bad-ass the audience has always savored.
The strongest leitmotif is that of memory, or the lack thereof, so that the early-onset Alzheimer’s plays a technical part of the plot and a thematic reminder that combating trafficking is going to involve memory, not just of the computer kind. One memory Alex never loses is the murder of young Beatriz, for whose violent end Alex was not responsible.
Along the way, this layered thriller comments on the limits of justice and the questionable answer of vigilantism. While the film leans toward the latter, so too does the stock Neeson character, whose sympathy we have when we see how free the bad boys and girls go.
They still need to be wary of old men with dementia—it’s those hidden skills, Baby. “HIS MIND IS FADING. HIS CONSCIENCE IS CLEAR,” says the memory poster.
Director: Martin Campbell (Green Lantern)
Screenplay: Dario Scardapane (Posse) from Jef Geeraerts book and De zaak Alzheimer film
Cast: Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Monica Bellucci (Mstrix Reloaded)
Run Time: 1h 54m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com