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Memory: Another outing for Liam Neeson’s cool black coat

Neeson gives his audience a sense of déjà vu in Memory, now showing on Prime Video.

First, a confession. I have a soft spot for any movie where Liam Neeson plays a slightly crinkly dude who beats up bad guys while wearing a cool black coat. Which is lucky because since the release of Taken in 2008 there has been a constant conveyor belt of thrifty thrillers in which Neeson – who turned 70 in June – plays a slightly crinkly dude who beats up bad guys while wearing a cool black coat.

Maybe he’s a freelance fixer with a military background, or a career criminal with a strict ethical code, or a special agent whose morally murky job has messed up his relationship with his family but one thing is for sure: he is going to slap around some ineffective henchmen in pursuit of street justice.

Is there a reason why the still-strapping Irishman remains so committed to playing ultra-capable leading men in deeply average action movies? Perhaps he has a very particular set of bills. 

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This week sees the release of Memory, Neeson’s second such movie of 2022 but one that puts a new spin on the familiar formula. He plays Alex Lewis, a fastidious hitman who refuses to assassinate a young girl in El Paso. That puts him in the crosshairs of a Mexican trafficking ring, a tight spot at the best of times, but Lewis is also apparently struggling with the first signs of Alzheimer’s, including physical tremors and memory blackouts. 

It seems like an intriguing way to undercut Neeson’s familiar screen persona: suddenly his typically driven professional is second-guessing his every move. (The casting of Guy Pearce in a supporting role feels like a nod to Memento, another thriller that generates tension by scrambling perceptions of time and intent.) 

So Memory sounds quite promising. But will it make much of an impact? Neeson’s last macho movie was
Blacklight – in which he played an off-the-books undercover expert who finds himself at the centre of a sinister FBI conspiracy – which debuted to little fanfare on Sky Cinema in March. While Memory was released in cinemas in the US, it will premiere here on Prime Video. Have we somehow fallen out of love with Big Liam in a cool black coat? 

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Memory is on Prime Video from August 19

It could simply be down to overfamiliarity. In the 14 years since Taken set Neeson on his current career trajectory, he has starred in 14 two-fisted thrillers (16 if you count the ensemble effort of 2010’s The A-Team big-screen reboot and 2021’s precarious rescue convoy drama The Ice Road). That would be an impressive battering average for any star but by now these films all tend to blur into one. There are still standouts: 2012’s The Grey is an emotionally raw survival fable set in remote Alaska that too often gets shorthanded to a man-versus-wolf smackdown. 

In 2014’s manic Non-Stop, Neeson is a stressed air marshall who swigs so much booze before the plot kicks in that the entire film could plausibly be read as an alcohol-fuelled delusion. And if you haven’t watched the original Taken in a while, you might be surprised at how integral Holly Valance and a karaoke machine are to the plot, and will marvel anew at the fact that Neeson abruptly became a bankable action superstar by playing a character with the distinctly non-action hero name “Bryan Mills”. 

There are, of course, plenty of clunkers. I would skip snooze-worthy Blacklight, and 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones (which struggles to live up to that wicked title) and 2015’s chase thriller Run All Night (a real waste of both its star and Ed Harris as a vengeful NYC crime boss). 

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But the regular income stream from his action outings seems to have freed Neeson up to otherwise do what he wants. That means a brilliant dual role as Good Cop/Bad Cop in 2014’s The Lego Movie, fun cameos in TV sitcoms like Rev, Atlanta and Derry Girls and some honest-to-goodness heartbreaking acting opposite Lesley Manville in 2019’s cancer drama Ordinary Love

Besides, I still feel Neeson has one last ultimate badass thriller in him. Maybe Memory will be the one.

Memory is out now on Amazon Prime Video

Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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