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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Memory, Review: Contract killer with Alzheimemory

Memory, Review: Contract killer with Alzheimemory

In India, as I guess in many other parts of the world, Liam Neeson is instantly associated with Schindler’s List (1992), when he was 40, wherein he played a businessman who saves several Jews from being sent to concentration camps. In the thirty years since, we have seen him play several action heroes. But after 2008, he became synonymous with Bryan Mills of the Taken series. Taken 2 came in 2012 and Taken 3 in 2015. At the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago. He said he was stubborn, “I’ve had enough of action movies”. He later clarified that he meant it as a joke”. After three recent outings - The Marksman, The Ice Road and Blacklight, Neeson - at 69, he plays a contract killer in Memory. The film has more than a fleeting similarity with Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), about a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia, resulting in short-term memory loss and the inability to form new memories. This film was remade in Hindi as Ghajini, starring Aamir Khan. In Memory, Neeson has to battle early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, hardly the kind of disability a dreaded hit-man can afford to have. A democratically made film, in which almost all the actors get good footage, the film is interesting but fails to offer any substantially different fare from the familiar genre.

Summoned by an old contact, Mauricio, assassin-for-hire, Alex Lewis, is told that there is a new assignment for him. Alex tries to opt out, stating that it was time he retired, but Mauricio laughs it off and offers him twice the usual fee, clarifying that this time he has to kill two persons. The huge fee attracts Alex and he agrees. Soon afterwards, he kills one man, from whom he recovers a pen-drive. When he goes to kill his second would-be-victim, he is shocked to find that it is a girl, barely in her teens. Unwilling to kill a child, he goes away, and reneges on the second part of the contract, informing his client that he will not kill a young girl. Initially unknown to him, a team of FBI agents, along with a Mexican partner, is investigating child trafficking along the Tex-Mex (Texas-Mexico) border. The teenage girl, Beatriz, was rescued from sex slavery by an FBI agent Vincent, and put in a camp, while persons whose entry into the US is considered and processed. But fearing that she could be attacked there, he puts her up in private facility.

Although he now possesses the pen-drive that could save his life, it could only be a temporary respite from the wrath of his clients. All this while, he battles Alzheimer’s and makes notes on his forearm. When he gets to know a courteous girl called Maya in a bar, he takes her to his hotel room, but cannot remember his room number, so he writes it on his forearm and has the room key tag as back-up. Waking-up early in the morning with a start, he sees on TV that Beatriz has been shot dead. Unable to remember whether he killed her, he asks Maya for corroboration, and is relieved that he was with her the whole night, and it could not be him. But now he fears that he could be traced any moment and anybody who is seen with him will also be a target. He tells Maya to leave immediately and keep away from the hotel, as well as him. Alex quietly sneaks into the parking lot, where he expects to be ambushed. And sure enough, as soon as he is seen, a volley of bullets greets him. To confound the situation, Maya appears from nowhere, to hand him over the bottle containing medicine pills, which he had forgotten.

Back in 2003, this story was made into a Belgian film, The Alzheimer Case, based on the novel De Zaak Alzheimer, by Jef Geeraerts. It has turns and twists galore, but perhaps too many characters, which tend to confuse you a bit. In such cases, a lot of screenplay writers tend to amalgamate some characters, for a smoother narrative. Maybe they have done so, yet there are still one or two characters too many. Dario Scardapane is credited with the screenplay of Memory. Whether the credit lies with him or with Jef Geeraerts, the hideout where Alex feels protected is very creatively thought out. Not so the place where he hides the pen-drive. You do not feel sympathy for Alex, and you shouldn’t, considering he is a merciless killer, but when he spares the child and when he rescues Maya from a brash drunk at the bar, you begin to root for him. The FBI track runs parallel with Alex’s story, while we get short insights into the world of the villains, both male and female. We get to understand why money power and social status come in the way of criminal investigation, even when law enforcement officers are not on the take. And the differing approaches to the same case come out as examples of differing sensitivities and clashing egos among the investigating officers.

No stranger to action, director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Golden Eye, Casino Royale), who is now all of 78 years old, gives you one of the goriest climaxes in recent times, in mid-close up. What is missing in terms of a long, high adrenaline car chase is made-up for by a parking lot encounter that is right out of Bond. Campbell does not glamourise his hero, on the contrary, he is only inches away from death throughout the film. But being the hero, he was to last out the film, hasn’t he? Cleverly, he casts a tall, burly Yankee as Danny Mora, a black American (cannot recall his name), a Mexican (Hugo Torres) and a woman (Linda Amistead) with almost Indian (not Red Indian) features as the FBI investigating team – what could be more democratic? Interestingly, the girl is learning Spanish, and the Mexican, who is treated with some disdain by the two other Americans, keeps correcting her pronunciation.

Coming across as a man who is in anguish, a moral dilemma and also incurably ill, Irishman Liam Neeson walks into the role, no questions asked. Been there, done that. Over and over again. But it is a bit difficult to accept him totally as a contract killer, especially since there is no back story. Except for stopping one bullet while escaping from the FBI in a speeding car, he is never shown as vulnerable, a quality that he could very convincingly portray. As Vincent Serra, the FBI man who puts his life where his mouth is, and takes on the sex-traffickers almost single-handedly at first, Guy Edward Pearce (Iron Man 3), the England-born Australian singer, songwriter, actor combines the coldness of a law enforcer with the empathy of a humane American whose heart beats for the hapless Mexican victims.

Playing the other two male FBI agents are Ray Stevenson (Thor: Ragnarok) as Danny Mora and Ray Fearon, the black man. Both look and play their parts well. But the more exciting portrayals come from Taj Atwal (British Punjabi) as Linda Amistead, Harold Torres as Hugo Marquez, Monica Bellucci as Davana Sealman, Mia Sanchez as Beatriz and Atanas Srebrev as Dr. Joseph Myers. Taj has a palpable exuberance about her, Hugo conveys innate goodness, Monica is up to no good, and is very good at it, Mia makes a gutsy victim who is resigned to her fate, but shows no signs of weakness and Atanas makes his moves as smoothly as he pricks his injections. Adequate support is provided by Stella Stocker as Maya, Louis Mandylor as the drunk at the bar, and Lee Boardman as Mauricio. Behind the scenes, we have some commendable handiwork by Photek (music) David Tattersall (cinematography) and Jo Francis (film editing).

Memory is a film that will appeal to viewers who have been following this genre, particularly fans of Liam Neeson. There is enough action, some of it really slick, and a trail of corpses, as you would expect from a Martin Campbell movie. On the other hand, those who have had just about enough of the Taken series and Tex-Mex drug cartel sagas might get a feeling of déjà vu. There is some novelty on offer, but not enough to make it stand out as a great effort. Memory stays with you for some time, but not long enough to get nostalgic about.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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