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‘Memory’ Review: Michel Franco Gets Unforgettable Performances From Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard

The tough art-house director of 'After Lucia' and 'Sundown' applies his rigorous style to a more optimistic story, presenting an unconventional romance between two damaged-goods New Yorkers.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Memory - Variety Critic's Pick

“ Memory ” feels like the “Silver Linings Playbook” of Michel Franco ’s career: an unexpectedly accessible romance between two damaged human beings, from an independent director who’s been known to put characters through some of life’s most punishing indignities. For those familiar with Franco’s work, the previous film it most resembles is “Chronic,” though the tough-love auteur spares us the bummer ending this time around. In that movie, he followed a hospice nurse through his rounds, then abruptly cut to black when the guy was sideswiped by a car. Womp-womp. When a director does that early in his career, audiences are right to be wary.

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“Memory” introduces Sylvia in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She’s 13 years sober, the same age as her daughter, Sara (Brooke Timber). Sylvia has fashioned her life in a way that gives her control over the things she can. Resisting the kind of clumsy exposition where people describe their backstory (which might have easily fit into that AA meeting), Franco prefers to reveal his characters through action. Sylvia works at an adult daycare center and keeps her social life to a minimum, compulsively setting the security alarm each time she enters her Brooklyn apartment. She’s hyper-vigilant about Sara’s behavior, forbidding the teenager to be around alcohol or boys.

Long before Sylvia explains her history of assault, her behavior says a lot about her own teenage experience. No wonder she’s creeped out when Saul follows her home from the reunion. But she’s also sharp enough to notice that something’s not quite right about this man, surely drawing on her training as a social worker. After Sylvia’s stalker spends the night on her stoop, she contacts his guardian, Isaac (Josh Lucas), and discovers Saul’s dementia.

Meanwhile, Sylvia’s sister (Merritt Wever) points out that the timing doesn’t line up: The girls transferred to a different school before Saul arrived, making it unlikely that he molested her. Strange that Sylvia’s memory sees it differently. What else might she be confused about? (Her estranged mother, played by ’70s cult icon Jessica Harper, accuses Sylvia of lying. But it’s just as likely that the older woman is in some kind of denial.)

So far, the film could be accused of being rather schematic — of setting up a situation where audiences must decide whether to believe the victim or to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. Then the characters’ behavior steers “Memory” in an unexpected direction. Isaac asks Sylvia if she’d be willing to be a nurse to Saul, and she agrees. At this point, it’s not clear whether she sincerely intends to help or has some kind of revenge on her mind. Franco resists the reductive path, allowing these two lonely people to bond. Both are fussed over by family members with a tendency to infantilize them. Sylvia’s kid sister assumes the more responsible role, while Saul’s brother has conservator-like control over his charge. Later, we discover what happens when he’s left alone.

Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, Sept. 5, 2023. In Venice, Toronto film festivals. Running time: 100 MIN.

  • Production: (U.S.-Mexico-Chile) A Teorema, High Frequency Entertainment, MUBI production, in association with Screen Capital, Caste Study Films. (World sales: The Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Producers: Michel Franco, Eréndira Núñez Larios, Alex Orlovsky, Duncan Montgomery. Executive producers: Paula P. Manzanedo, Moises Chiver, Jack Selby, Patricio Rabuffetti, Tatiana Emden, Joyce Zylberberg, Ralph Haiek, Michael Weber, Efe Cakarel, Bobby Allen, Jason Ropell.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Michel Franco. Camera: Yves Cape. Editor:
  • With: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Brooke Timber, Merritt Wever, Elsie Fisher, Jessica Harper, Josh Charles.

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Now that Nicolas Cage has had his stock upgraded as of late (thanks to his lovely performance in “Pig” and his self-aware turn in the recent “ The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent ”), and Bruce Willis has retired, I suspect that Liam Neeson is going to be the next actor who finds himself in the critical crosshairs for doing far too many forgettable movies. His latest, “Memory,” is already his second such film in 2022, and since his list of upcoming projects on IMDb mentions titles like “Retribution,” “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” “The Revenger” and “Cold Pursuit Sequel Project,” it doesn’t appear that he will be disembarking this particular gravy train anytime soon. To his credit, “Memory” is at least slightly more ambitious than most of the similar films Neeson has done recently. But it's certainly not enough to make you overlook how one of our most powerful actors is again wasting his time on the kind of half-baked thriller Charles Bronson used to crank out with depressing regularity during the waning days of his career.

The time around, Neeson plays Alex Lewis , another expert hired killer with a particular set of skills. As this film opens, he's considering leaving the life behind after seeing signs of the Alzheimer’s that has already claimed his brother. Nevertheless, Alex accepts one final job in El Paso, in which he has to bump off two separate people and recover some important flash drives from the first victim. He pulls off the first hit easily enough but when he discovers that the second victim is a 12-year-old girl ( Mia Sanchez ), Alex refuses to pull the trigger and keeps the flash drives for himself as an insurance policy.

Unfortunately, the girl had been pimped out by her father to a number of wealthy and powerful people, including the depraved son of powerful real estate developer Davana Sealman ( Monica Bellucci ), who put out the original hit in order to help her child evade justice. After tying up that loose end, she also calls for Alex to be killed. But even though he's slipping mentally, he's still skillful enough to evade her hired goons and kill everyone remotely connected to the crime. Alex also plants enough clues for an FBI task force led by Vincent Serra ( Guy Pearce ), who also tried to help the girl and feels guilty about what happened to her, to pursue him while always remaining one step ahead of them.

If the basic story points of “Memory” sound familiar to you, it may be that you've seen “ The Memory of a Killer ,” the 2003 Belgian crime drama that has been Americanized here (with both films based on Jef Geeraerts ’ novel The Alzheimer Case ). Although this version more or less follows the same narrative path of its predecessor, the original film, although a perfectly good genre film in its own right, was more interested in its central character (played in a very good performance by Jan Decleir ) as he is forced to reckon with both the weight of his past misdeeds and the cruelties of his present condition. 

“Memory” does begin to work when Neeson gets a hold of script's more dramatically impactful moments, but these scenes are simply too few and far between to be truly effective. Dario Scardapane ’s screenplay tends to put more of an emphasis on the big action beats, which are implausible enough as is and doubly so when you consider that they involve a character with deteriorating cognitive abilities. Although these scenes are handled with some style by director Martin Campbell , whose oeuvre includes one of the very best James Bond films (“Casino Royale”) and a lot of stuff that will be politely overlooked here, they wind up overwhelming the human drama involving Neeson’s character. This is especially evident during a new, less thoughtful finale in which one of the key villains is dispatched in an especially gruesome manner in order to give the gorehounds in the audience a final thrill before the end credits. Other than Neeson, the only performance of note here comes from Bellucci, whose casting here is unexpected, to say the least.

“Memory” is a little better than the majority of Neeson’s recent action excursions and there's a chance it may prove to be better than most of his future projects. However, that doesn't prove to be enough to make it worth watching, and those lucky enough to have seen “The Memory of a Killer” are likely to be disappointed as well. Yes, a little more effort has gone into the making of "Memory," so it's a shame—and an ironic one to boot—that the end results are so forgettable.

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Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around  bon vivant , Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Film credits.

Memory movie poster

Memory (2022)

Rated R for violence, some bloody images and language throughout.

114 minutes

Liam Neeson as Alex Lewis

Guy Pearce as Vincent Serra

Taj Atwal as Linda Amistead

Harold Torres as Hugo Marquez

Monica Bellucci as Davana Sealman

Ray Stevenson as Detective Danny Mora

Stella Stocker as Maya

Antonio Jaramillo as Papa Leon

  • Martin Campbell

Writer (book)

  • Jef Geeraerts
  • Dario Scardapane

Cinematographer

  • David Tattersall

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Liam neeson in ‘memory’: film review.

Guy Pearce co-stars as an FBI agent in a remake of a Belgian crime thriller involving a child trafficking ring and a hitman struggling with Alzheimer’s.

By Sheri Linden

Sheri Linden

Senior Copy Editor/Film Critic

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Liam Neeson stars as “Alex Lewis” in director Martin Campbell’s MEMORY, an Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment release.

The premise of Memory just might be the mother of all high concepts: A hired assassin has Alzheimer’s. It instantly evokes two possible interpretations: bruising black comedy would be one, thoughtful musing on life and death the other. In especially deft hands, a third option would meld the two. As directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by Dario Scardapane, and even with a couple of soulful actors at its center, that premise plays out as none of the above; it’s a mechanical plot point in a perfunctory actioner that leaves laughs — intentional ones, anyway — and existential meditations by the wayside.

Adapting the 2003 Belgian feature The Memory of a Killer , based on the novel De Zaak Alzheimer ( The Alzheimer Case ), Memory comes equipped with all the accoutrements of the contract-killer genre: the burner phones, the silencers, the laser sights, the Liam Neeson . This time, though, Neeson isn’t the law-and-order guy wielding questionable methods in the name of justice, but the mercenary who is faced with an unacceptable assignment — his target is a 13-year-old girl — and trying to do the right thing before his dimming cognitive lights go out permanently.

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Release date: Friday, April 29

Cast: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Monica Bellucci, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, Ray Stevenson, Harold Torres

Director: Martin Campbell

Screenwriter: Dario Scardapane

To believe, as we’re meant to, that Neeson’s Alex Lewis spent his formative years in El Paso, Texas, where most of the action is set, would require its own cognitive disconnect. Then again, the production was shot mainly in Bulgaria, and there’s a vaguely intercontinental, pan-European vibe to the cast, from small supporting roles to Monica Bellucci ’s spiritless rendering of a villainous bigwig.

But the Lone Star State is meant to be more than a state of mind in Memory . It’s meant to put a topical slant on a storyline involving the abuse and trafficking of children. The teenager who Alex refuses to kill is an undocumented immigrant; a detention center for such children proves to be a vicious nexus of public and private interests; and the real-life unsolved murders of countless girls and women in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, haunts and drives a key character.

For all its questions of morality, mortality and politics, the film feels empty at its core, not unlike the sleek modern spaces where the story’s ultra-wealthy, ultra-corrupt and ultra-clichéd scheme and cavort joylessly. Matching the screenplay’s lack of nuance, Campbell ( Casino Royale , The Protégé ) orchestrates the proceedings with a flat efficacy, stringing together familiar action beats and churning up little that rings true.

As the movie opens, Alex pulls off a hit of gruesome expertise in a Guadalajara hospital, a scene that’s mirrored, with even more blood, in the film’s final stretch. However ruthless a killing machine Alex may be, his humanizing predicament becomes clear when, returning to his car after dispatching his victim, he struggles for a painful moment to remember where he put his car key. The pills he takes are designed to forestall the inevitable, and to help maintain an even keel he scrawls factoids on his inner forearm for easy reference. Neeson signals Alex’s frustration and his acknowledgment of defeat. He’s ready to quit this crazy business, a decision that his Mexico City contact Mauricio (Lee Boardman) rejects, hoisting a fat envelope of cash at him with instructions to kill two people in El Paso, a town Alex knows well.

After dispatching target No. 1, a well-to-do businessman (Scot Williams), and retrieving an item from his safe, Alex discovers that the second would-be victim is 13-year-old Beatriz (Mia Sanchez). With his customary violence, he lets his smarmy local handler (Daniel de Bourg) know that he wants the contract canceled, setting off a new round of cat-and-mouse in which he’s the quarry.

FBI agent Vincent Serra ( Guy Pearce ), meanwhile, has taken a particular interest in Beatriz, who was being pimped by her father (Antonio Jaramillo) and is now orphaned, after a sting by Vincent’s team, the agency’s Child Exploitation Task Force, goes spectacularly wrong. Vincent’s boss, Gerald Nussbaum (Ray Fearon), puts the task force on ice and sends Mexican investigator Hugo Marquez (Harold Torres) packing. But Hugo finds a reason to stick around, and neither Vincent nor his partner, Linda Amisted (Taj Atwal), is eager to pivot to run-of-the-mill local crimes. An El Paso detective (Ray Stevenson) isn’t thrilled to have them around, and Alex, in his last-ditch pursuit of truth and justice, is one step ahead of them all. If only he can remember where he put that flash drive filled with incriminating audio.

Scardapane (producer-writer of the series The Bridge and The Punisher ) advances the story via information drops posing as conversation. Case in point: “You realize we’re talking about one of the most powerful real estate moguls in the country, right?” Bellucci’s Davana Sealman, the mogul in question, pulls many puppet strings in the city, a power that her hedonistic son (Josh Taylor) depends on. The pileup of one-note characters also includes a prostitute (Stella Stocker) working the bar at Alex’s hotel, and a trophy-wife stereotype (Natalie Anderson) who feels like something out of a subpar Raymond Chandler knockoff, or an unintended spoof of one.

The involvement of Pearce is a wink and a nod to his role in a classic of the memory-affliction subgenre, Memento , a taut and masterful thriller in whose shadow Memory withers. Pearce is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and his performance is the strongest, most sustained and convincing element of the film — and one that frequently finds him in a vacuum.

He enters the story delivering a performance within a performance: In the attempted sting, Vincent poses as a john seeking the company of an underage girl. Even after he’s shaken off the layers of scuzz required for that role, there’s something off about Vincent, a sense that he’s uncared for. The explanation arrives in an eleventh-hour revelation that should be crushing in its sadness but is instead awkward in its narrative ineptitude.

To give that disclosure its intended impact, Campbell would have had to stir up certain undercurrents in the characters who interact with Vincent. Atwal comes closest in a final exchange that, against the odds in a movie that can feel propelled by an algorithm, produces a satisfying emotional zing.

However unsubtle the material, Neeson offers unforced glimmers of a soul lost to brutality as Alex wavers between a thickening mental fog and perfect lucidity when the plot demands it. But there’s also a sense of his effortless screen magnetism being shoehorned into a thriller boilerplate. And it’s tempting to imagine, when Alex is staring into the middle distance, forgetting where he is and why, that Neeson might be remembering when he played complex men like Alfred Kinsey and Michael Collins.

Full credits

Distributors: Briarcliff Entertainment, Open Road Films Production companies: Black Bear Pictures, Welle Entertainment, Saville Productions Cast: Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Monica Bellucci, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, Ray Stevenson, Harold Torres, Josh Taylor, Antonio Jaramillo, Daniel De Bourg, Scot Williams, Stella Stocker, Rebecca Calder, Atanas Srebrev, Lee Boardman, Natalie Anderson, Mia Sanchez Director: Martin Campbell Screenwriter: Dario Scardapane Based on the book De Zaak Alzheimer by Jef Geeraerts and on the picture De Zaak Alzheimer by Carl Joos and Erik Van Looy Producers: Cathy Schulman, Moshe Diamant, Rupert Maconick, Michael Heimler, Arthur Sarkissian Executive producers: Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Peter Bouckaert, Rudy Durand, Tom Ortenberg, James Masciello, Matthew Sidari Director of photography: David Tattersall Production designer: Wolf Kroeger Costume designer: Irina Kotcheva Editor: Jo Francis Music: Rupert Parkes Casting: Pam Dixon, Dan Hubbard

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Review: In ‘Memory,’ two survivors come to a wary bond, even if the past harbors demons

Two adults have a conversation in a woodsy park.

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A guarded Jessica Chastain and a rumpled Peter Sarsgaard make mysterious, sweetly dissonant music together in “Memory,” a touch-and-go drama about connection that’s as steeped in discomfort as it is cautiously hopeful about one’s ability to find peace within it.

Writer-director Michel Franco’s take on an offbeat urban romance — between a social worker and a cognitively impaired, housebound man — has no use for easy or overwrought emotions or snap conclusions. Franco’s story implies that to really see someone on the inside is hard work. And doing so when nobody around you trusts your eyesight, much less your judgment? Even harder.

When we meet Chastain’s Sylvia, she’s the back of a head in a darkly lighted AA meeting. Members heap praise on her for how she’s handled her struggle across 13 years of sobriety, a span of time that corresponds to the age of her daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber), also in tow.

In the outside world, where she works in adult day care and lives in a tightly secured apartment, Sylvia’s manner is hard-edged and solitary — and when it comes to Anna, who enjoys hanging out with her aunt Olivia ( Merritt Wever ) and same-age cousins, as watchful as a hawk. Silvia looks ill at ease around her extended family, or is it just anyone who’s not her daughter?

Her unease palpably becomes ours, though, when she’s followed home from her high school reunion by a shaggy-looking attendee who then camps outside her building overnight in the pouring rain. Gentle-seeming but clearly not well, Saul (Sarsgaard) is picked up the next morning by his brother Isaac (Josh Charles), which is when we learn that the former suffers from dementia and lives unsupervised in his brownstone, occasionally looked after by Isaac and an adoring niece ( Elsie Fisher ).

Los Angeles, CA - December 04: Actor Peter Sarsgaard, whose film "Memory" is about early-onset dementia and here he poses for a portrait at Chateau Marmont on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Healing, connection, optimism’: Peter Sarsgaard takes ‘Memory’ beyond the dementia

“I find it so gratifying that people are emotional watching this. They have a feeling of unity and optimism,” the actor says.

Dec. 20, 2023

Sylvia, however, is convinced that smiling, polite Saul is actually a figure from her traumatic childhood who recognized her that night. When she initiates a follow-up visit, the gesture appears charitable but comes with a pent-up confrontation in mind. In its clarifying wake, however, a tenderness develops between these damaged souls, one that becomes increasingly difficult to understand for their respective families — including the mother Sylvia won’t speak to, for reasons that become disturbingly clear as things combust in the final act. (Even before we know what we suspect, Jessica Harper ’s few scenes vividly suggest a manipulative affluence worth purging.)

Franco is a cool-headed ironist with a flair for oblique narrative and a fascination with the detached worlds of the wealthy. In taut, violent oddities of disintegration like “New Order” and “Sundown,” his style can translate into a bracing, compelling distance that’s not for all tastes. But because “Memory” is, at root, a story of people finding each other, the vibe is more reminiscent of Franco’s caretaking character study “Chronic,” while still touching on the abiding peculiarities of people who come from money and what’s always simmering in broken people. More directly than his previous films, his penchant for long takes with minimal intercutting seeds an emotional suspense, for us as well as the fragile humans inside cinematographer Yves Cape’s cool, steady frame.

Chastain and Sarsgaard use that time and space well too, playing out what’s unspoken and making real their characters’ budding, unsentimental closeness. There are whole areas of this twosome’s bond that remain unexplained. Ultimately, that feels like a virtue of the movie, rather than a flaw.

Franco’s way with a heartfelt story means foregrounding a feral alertness to danger to get us to appreciate the warmth its protagonists are waiting to bestow. But it’s also what’s admirably adult about “Memory.” It’s a movie that understands fully how nothing about our lives is a given, and that if you look hard enough at yours, there’s always something worth escaping from and running toward.

Rating: R, for some sexual content, language and graphic nudity Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes Playing: AMC Century City 15

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‘Memory’ Review: Jessica Chastain Is a Caretaker with Demons in Michel Franco’s Demented Romance

Ryan lattanzio, deputy editor, film.

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Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. Ketchup Entertainment releases the film in select theaters on Friday, December 22, with expansion to follow on Friday, January 5.

Michel Franco ‘s “ Memory ” is in the tradition of movies about broken people coming together, with all the heartbreak and melodrama required.

Saul, as we eventually learn, has a form of dementia that alternates between total mental clarity and blackouts that leave him lost. Sylvia (Chastain) is an adult daycare social worker who forms a patchy connection with him after their creepy first encounter, and it turns to love.

Writer/director Franco leaves his heart ajar for perhaps the first time — his prior films, even his most recent “Sundown” about a man (Tim Roth) who abandons his family while on vacation in Mexico at a time of great need, maintain an emotional cool. “Memory,” unlike the rest, is a weepie but still a weepie for those who hate them, as the Mexican filmmaker keeps 10 feet of emotional distance from his characters at all times — until he doesn’t. “Memory” feels like what happens after a typical Michel Franco movie, the worst of the damage already done and out of the way. (No genocide or deus-ex-machina auto deaths here!)

Sylvia lives with her daughter Anna (Brooke Timber) in the waterside Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. She keeps multiple locks and an alarm system affixed to the front door of their two-bedroom apartment, and flinches when a maintenance worker who shows up turns out to be a man and not the woman she asked for. There’s a distrust around men she even reveals in the film’s opening scene, an AA meeting in which Sylvia is celebrating 13 years of sobriety. (Her daughter, who attends also, looks old enough for us to surmise that Sylvia got sober around the time Anna was born.) “You’re the only man who stayed,” she tells her sponsor, jokingly, but it clearly took her years to get to a joke like this without it being laced with pain.

It’s there that she drops a horrified unexpected bomb on this man whom we’ve learned from Isaac has dementia: Do you remember when you raped me when I was 12 and you were 17? She storms off, tossing his “In Case of Emergency Please Call…” lanyard into a trash can. “You deserve to be the way you are.” But again, that social worker streak kicks in, and she feels guilty, returning to find Saul. And as the pieces unfold, is she telling the truth in her allegations, or is she just a child of abuse and trauma who uses lying as a manipulation and coping tactic?

Meanwhile, dropping in as if from the sky, her estranged mother Samantha (Jessica Harper, and if you’re going to call upon a legendary actress to play a recalcitrant mother from Miami, it should of course be her) re-enters the lives of Olivia and her children. There are concerns that Sylvia has long been lying about childhood sexual abuse, concerns that even Olivia seems to corroborate, however wearily. Samantha’s sudden visibility in their lives isn’t deeply explained by Franco, who tends to keep exposition close to his chest.

Sarsgaard plays Saul with a tentative energy, often vacant-eyed until he snaps into focus, while Sylvia, obviously loveless since sobriety other than her relationship with her daughter, is desperate for some kind of connection with another person even if it interrupts her controlled existence: Go to work, go to the AA meetings, pay the bills, take your daughter to school, push the horrors of yesterday under the proverbial planter in the corner.

And oh there are horrors, however offscreen and tucked in the past. When Sylvia, eventually flush in her caretaking-turned-romance with Saul, brings him back to Olivia’s to “meet the family,” she’s met with the terrible surprise of her long-gone mother Samantha there. The third-act swerve into a dysfunctional family breakdown during which all the ghosts of years ago are laid out in one harrowing scene — shot in Franco’s characteristic long-take style, working with cinematographer Yves Cape — feels just a bit pat for the measured drama that’s come before it.

There’s an errant moment toward the end that shows Sylvia listlessly vacuuming, Chastain’s red hair flying out of place, alone again. The actress displays an extraordinary understanding of the mechanisms of control an addict must go through to keep out the bad and stay the course. “Memory” has the makings of a play in its hyper-focus on the central dilemma of an alcoholic woman and a mentally ill man trying to love each other.

Chastain has made a point in her career to play only women of inner strength. Sylvia’s isn’t immediate, but it’s there. Watching her hardened outsides come just slightly undone from the inside is as moving as watching Franco’s own do just that as he opens his heart up to caring for the characters he’s created. Is his dark imagination pulling a fast one on us? I don’t think so.

“Memory” premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival.

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Memory review: Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard rise above this film’s contrived misery

Writer-director michel franco unfurls a rolling series of revelations here – a buffet of traumas served up for the benefit of narrative intrigue, article bookmarked.

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Memory would be too contrived a work to buy into if it weren’t for the talents of Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Mexico’s Michel Franco – a light provocateur known for his cool-headed portraits of violent retribution against the wealthy – it’s a romantic drama of sorts, in which affection becomes secondary to suffering .

Chastain plays Sylvia, a care worker in a facility for disabled people. We first meet her at Alcoholics Anonymous , where she’s celebrating 13 years of sobriety by introducing to the group her teenage daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber). Sylvia’s life is comfortable, if cyclical and stagnant, chopped into listless pieces by Franco and his co-editor, Oscar Figueroa. But the signs of trouble are there: she seems uneasy around her sister, Olivia (Merritt Wever), and compulsively attached to a routine of home alarms and door locks. She denies her daughter’s most basic requests for independence, and rifles through her bedroom drawers.

So, when she’s browbeaten into attending a school reunion, unease spills almost naturally into outright terror when a man, Saul (Sarsgaard), sidles up to her seat. She heads home. He follows her back, all the way to her front door, and stays there until morning, resting limply on a pile of spare tyres from the garage next door.

Here begins Franco’s rolling series of revelations, a buffet of traumas served up for the benefit of narrative intrigue. It turns out Saul’s motivations were entirely innocent – as his brother Isaac (Josh Charles) explains, he has early-onset dementia. It manifests largely, for now, in erratic incidents of confusion and disorientation.

However, there’s a reason Olivia was so jumpy with him, and an accusation is introduced and then dismissed, in order to make way for even further trauma. The camera holds back in order to watch her, from afar, as she sobs in the middle of a park or in the living room after she’s confronted by her estranged and controlling mother (Jessica Harper).

Memory is eventually able to surpass all that calculated misery. Chastain and Sarsgaard invest much in the fragile connection that Olivia and Saul eventually build, and find something much more poignant between them. Saul’s dementia has left him with little of his present but much of his past – of his childhood and his long-deceased wife. In a sense, he still lives there. Sarsgaard shifts sensitively between the energised way he talks about his lost love and the subsequent shutdown his mind experiences when he’s forced to confront the fact she’s gone.

Traumatised: Jessica Chastain in ‘Memory’

Olivia, too, is stuck, albeit for very different reasons. Chastain allows the grief of a lost girlhood to twist her body inwards, to keep it taut and perpetually on the defence. When Olivia and Saul’s timid flirtations inevitably ease into physical passion, the actors move with such innocence and desperation that it’s hard not to be touched – here are two people whose minds struggle to see what’s before them, daring to hope that there’s still something to build upon. Together, both actors rise above the most blatant of Memory ’s manipulations.

Dir: Michel Franco. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher, Josh Charles, Jessica Harper. Cert 15, 99 minutes

‘ Memory ’ is in cinemas from 23 February

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Two strangers grapple with hazy 'Memory' in this unsettling film

Justin Chang

movie reviews on memory

Jessica Chastain plays a single mother who connects with a man with early-onset dementia (Peter Sarsgaard) in Memory . via Ketchup Entertainment hide caption

Jessica Chastain plays a single mother who connects with a man with early-onset dementia (Peter Sarsgaard) in Memory .

The Mexican writer-director Michel Franco is something of a feel-bad filmmaker. His style can be chilly and severe. His characters are often comfortable bourgeois types who are in for some class-based comeuppance. His usual method is to set up the camera at a distance from his characters and watch them squirm in tense, unbroken long takes.

Sometimes all hell breaks loose, as in Franco's dystopian drama New Order , about a mass revolt in Mexico City. Sometimes the nightmare takes hold more quietly, like in Sundown , his recent slow-burn thriller about a vacation gone wrong.

I haven't always been a fan of Franco's work, not because I object to pessimistic worldviews in art, but because his shock tactics have sometimes felt cheap and derivative, borrowed from other filmmakers. But his new English-language movie, Memory , is something of a surprise. For starters, it's fascinating to see how well-known American actors like Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard adapt to his more detached style of filmmaking. And while his touch is as clinical and somber as ever, there's a sense of tenderness and even optimism here that feels new to his work.

'Femininity Is Not Weakness,' Jessica Chastain Says Of 'Zookeeper's Wife'

Movie Interviews

'femininity is not weakness,' jessica chastain says of 'zookeeper's wife'.

Chastain plays Sylvia, a single mom who works at an adult daycare center. From the moment we meet her, at an AA meeting where people congratulate her on her many years of sobriety, it's clear that she's been through a lot. She's intensely protective of her teenage daughter, rarely letting her hang out with other kids, especially boys. Whenever she returns home to her Brooklyn apartment, she immediately locks the door behind her and sets the home security system. Even when Sylvia's doing nothing, we see the tension in her body, as if she were steeling herself against the next blow.

One night, while attending her high school reunion, Sylvia is approached by a man named Saul, played by Sarsgaard. He says nothing, but his silent attentiveness unnerves Sylvia, especially when he follows her home and spends the night camped outside her apartment. The next morning, Sylvia learns more about Saul that might help explain his disturbing behavior: He has early-onset dementia and suffers regular short-term memory loss.

Some of the backstory in Memory is confusing by design. Sylvia remembers being sexually abused by a 17-year-old student named Ben when she was 12, and she initially accuses Saul of having abused her too. We soon learn that he couldn't have, because they were at school at different times. It would seem that Sylvia's own memory, clouded by personal pain, isn't entirely reliable either.

Despite the awkwardness and tension of these early encounters, Sylvia and Saul are clearly drawn to each other. Seeing how well Saul responds to Sylvia's company, his family offers her a part-time job looking after him during the day. As their connection deepens, they realize how much they have in common. Both Sylvia and Saul feel like outcasts. Both, too, have issues with their families; Saul's brother, played by Josh Charles, treats him like a nuisance and a child. And while Sylvia is close to her younger sister, nicely played by Merritt Wever, she's been estranged for years from their mother, who refuses to believe her allegations of sexual abuse.

The movie poignantly suggests that Sylvia and Saul are two very different people who, by chance, have come into each other's lives at just the right moment. At the same time, the story does come uncomfortably close to romanticizing dementia, as if Saul's air of friendly, unthreatening bafflement somehow made him the perfect boyfriend.

But while I have some reservations about how the movie addresses trauma and illness, this is one case where Franco's restraint actually works: There's something admirably evenhanded about how he observes these characters trying to navigate uncharted waters in real time. Chastain and Sarsgaard are very moving here; it's touching to see how the battle-hardened Sylvia responds to Saul's gentle spirit, and how he warms to her patience and attention.

This isn't the first time Franco has focused on the act of caregiving; more than once I was reminded of his 2015 drama, Chronic , which starred Tim Roth as a palliative care worker. I didn't love that movie, either, but it had some of the same unsettling intimacy and emotional force as Memory . It's enough to make me want to revisit some of Franco's work, with newly appreciative eyes.

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In Memory, Liam Neeson Gets to Act More Than Usual

Portrait of Bilge Ebiri

Even those of us who’ve generally enjoyed Liam Neeson’s recent run of tough-guy roles sometimes forget that he can be a hell of a performer, too. His latest, Memory , directed by action legend Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale , The Mask of Zorro ), offers a helpful reminder that Neeson kicking ass need not mean Neeson on acting autopilot. The film, a remake of the 2003 Belgian thriller The Memory of a Killer , follows a hitman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, but the dementia element is more a narrative contrivance than a serious exploration of a debilitating illness. (For that, you might want to check out Gaspar Noé’s Vortex instead, also out this week.) But Neeson, who had been an intensely physical actor even before he started playing guys with special sets of skills, conveys the vulnerability, pain, and fear of the character so well that he turns a nothing plot element into something genuinely moving.

When we first meet Alex Lewis (Neeson), he’s posing as a nurse in order to brutally strangle a man visiting his sick mother in the hospital. Our hero is not a good guy: Alex has spent his life killing people for money, often at the behest of gangsters operating in and around El Paso, Texas. But when he’s given a job that involves targeting a young girl, he refuses to kill her. Is this a sign of a humanity he’s always had, or is it a newfound hesitancy brought on by his condition? “You’re going soft,” his boss, Mauricio (Lee Boardman), says, bitterly.

A greater conspiracy is unfolding, however. The girl, Beatriz (Mia Sanchez), was a child-trafficking victim, and a dogged FBI agent, Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce, who himself starred in Memento 22 years ago, a film to which Memory occasionally nods), is hoping she will be the witness to help him take down a massive human-trafficking operation. The conspiracy, however, reaches through the upper levels of El Paso society, including the family of local businesswoman and philanthropist Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci). While Serra and his partners, among whom is Hugo Marquez (Harold Torres) of the Mexican intelligence agency, encounter obstacles legal and otherwise, Alex seems to be the one person who can cut through all that red tape — a deadly lone wolf with what is now a personal grudge and not a lot of time left.

That results in an intriguing confusion of loyalties that the film probably could have done more with; Serra and his crew are torn over whether to try and stop Alex or to let him work his killing-machine magic. But overall, Memory works not so much as a procedural — it’s a bit too simply plotted for that — as it does as a character study. Credit the actors, and director Campbell’s willingness to give them their space. Neeson, in particular, is well-suited to portray Alex’s growing fragility. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, haunted by the images of people he may or may not have killed, his fear and confusion are overwhelming. The actor has always had a thing for suffering; even his action movies are on some level about shame and regret and intense personal pain . But what was submerged in the previous movies is out in the open this time. One scene where Alex cauterizes a bullet wound in his torso with a bottle of liquor and a lighter is so agonizing that I’d believe it if you told me Neeson had actually burned himself.

There’s an interesting edge to the action, too. Alex smashes heads and blows away people (not all of them bad guys, either) with ruthless, automatic efficiency, but it all feels reflexive, as if it’s been programmed into his muscle memory. That speaks to why he’s able to keep offing people even as he seems to be losing his cognitive abilities. He’s been killing for so long that it comes as naturally to him as breathing. That makes for a compelling contrast: On the one hand, we get surprisingly effective and visceral violence — the genre spectacle at which Campbell has always excelled — and on the other, a very real tenderness and anguish that’s quite rare in this sort of flick. In the end, Memory ’s greatest asset might be that it knows exactly what it is — a fun combination of sleazoid action and surprising emotion. It’s the best kind of B-movie.

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Memory Review

Memory

Despite the fact that Michel Franco’s new film focuses on an alcoholic grappling with the lingering effects of child abuse, Memory may well be his most buoyant work yet. The Mexican director, known for his violent and unforgiving plots ( After Lucia , Chronic ), is often considered something of a cinematic sadist who enjoys inflicting as much pain as possible onto his characters. This time, however, his trademark brand of screen cruelty finds a more optimistic narrative — almost feel-good in its theme of redemption.

Memory

That isn’t initially clear when we’re first introduced to Sylvia (Jessica Chastain), a recovering addict who works with adults living with learning disabilities. With a grim- set expression, her life is elaborately planned: AA meetings, a stern approach to childcare duties, a Fort Knox-like alarm system to protect her house. After meeting a kind but disoriented ex-schoolmate named Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), Sylvia’s walls slowly come down... only to show us just how deep the roots of abuse can grow, tangling and tugging below the surface.

Memory feels so compelling precisely because it keeps its cards close to its chest.

Franco has, rather unexpectedly, made a shrewd movie about the precarity of healing from trauma. Sylvia’s frequently cruel demeanour — “You deserve to be the way you are,” she says to Saul, abandoning him in the woods without his Emergency Contact lanyard — proves how the path of recovery can morph into quicksand at the slightest perceived threat or trigger. Sylvia isn’t a perfect victim, but someone whose past has hardened her into a contradictory figure that often goes against the grain.

Memory

Opposite Chastain, Sarsgaard is equally worthy. Saul’s dementia is not presented purely as a form of suffering, but is instead something that can enhance his capability for empathy; when Sylvia discloses a painful memory to him, he asks her permission to write it down so that he doesn’t forget — just one of many moments that twangs at the heartstrings. Instead of having him monologue about his condition, we get astute directorial touches instead: Saul first enters the frame out of focus, and later is speaking but framed from the neck-down — canny choices to highlight his cognitive blur, the separation between mind and body. Is he lovesick? Is he trapped in a hazy brain-prison of looped thoughts? Or is that sort of the same thing, sometimes?

Many films that deal with similar themes to this can come across as cheap in the way they reach for tear-jerking moments. But save for some moments of unnecessary exposition, Memory feels so compelling precisely because it keeps its cards close to its chest.

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Memory’ on Paramount+, a Hefty Drama Boasting Terrific Performances by Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard

Where to stream:.

  • Memory (2023)
  • Jessica Chastain

Is ‘Memory’ Streaming On Netflix Or HBO Max?

Peter sarsgaard tells ‘the view’ what it was like to have his wife direct his love scenes with another woman: “i recommend it to everyone”, jessica chastain grows emotional on ‘the view’ recalling her missed opportunity to thank robin williams: “i always regret it”, jessica chastain and jeremy strong have an after hours dance party to madonna: “this is what happens when you let jeremy strong and i stay up past our bedtimes”.

Not to be confused with the somewhat recent Liam Neeson action film of the same name , Memory ( now streaming on Paramount+ ) unites one of the cinema’s more quietly incendiary directors with two of the more underrated actors of their generation. Granted, winning an Oscar in 2022 for playing Tammy Faye Bakker doesn’t quite make one underrated, but I nevertheless insist it’s true for Jessica Chastain, whose presence routinely improves the movie’s she’s in – and you can heap the same praise upon her co-star Peter Sarsgaard (whose range brings to mind Philip Seymour Hoffman, a hands-down all-timer). Here, they work under Mexican writer/director Michel Franco, who’s never one to shy away from intense drama, and it’s pretty much a perfect fit. 

MEMORY : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: Sylvia’s (Chastain) refrigerator is broken, and it’s perhaps telling that she specifically requested a repair woman instead of a repair man . (It’s also perhaps telling that when a man comes instead of a woman, she sighs and lets him in anyway, and the repair occurs without incident.) It’s hard to tell if she’s happy, but she’s getting by: A single mom to teenager Anna (Brooke Timber). Works at an adult day care center. An alcoholic who’s been sober for many years. She’s tough, a survivor, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t tenuous, maybe a bit fragile. She lives in a so-so neighborhood in New York, and needs to borrow money from her sister Olivia (Merritt Wever) to make an end or two meet. 

You get the sense that Sylvia isn’t particularly comfortable in social situations, a sense that’s affirmed when Olivia strongarms her into attending a high school class reunion. The host toasts to the class of whatever year it was, and Sylvia sits quietly and awkwardly with her glass of water as everyone else raises their wine glasses. She stays in her seat and stares into the middle distance as everyone else dances. Then, Saul (Sarsgaard) sits next to her and smiles. She says nothing. Stands up. Walks out. Saul follows at a distance, but not so far that she won’t notice him. She gets on the train, and so does he. She gets off, and so does he. She walks to her apartment and quickly locks the door behind her and goes upstairs and pulls the curtains shut. He stands outside. A rainstorm erupts, and he stays on the sidewalk. He’s still outside the next morning, sitting, covered in trash bags, looking confused, disturbed and disturbing. 

Saul was with Isaac (Josh Charles) at the party. Sylvia calls Isaac to retrieve him. We follow Saul for a scene or two, as he goes home with his brother. Some time later, Isaac invites her over so she stops by. Saul has dementia, she’s told. He remembers things from many years ago, but struggles with things that happened a day or two, or even a minute, ago. Sylvia and Saul go for a walk in the park and sit on a log and she confronts him: Does he remember the time when she was 12 and he and some others got her drunk and sexually assaulted her? He doesn’t. She accuses him of conveniently “forgetting” and takes his emergency contact lanyard and leaves him there alone on the log. Then she feels a pang of guilt and goes back and finds him and gives him back the lanyard. She struggles for a bit. Trauma does that to a person. Soon thereafter, Olivia tells Sylvia that she was wrong. Saul didn’t transfer to their school until after the assault. He wasn’t there. She misremembered. It seems trauma does that to a person, too.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Memory is on the same searingly melodramatic wavelength as Franco’s previous film, 2022’s Sundown (but is markedly different from the terrifying, and far less subtle, speculative fiction of 2020’s New Order ). 

Performance Worth Watching: Franco’s heavyweight screenplay puts the onus on Chastain and Sarsgaard, who give this thorny drama and its troubled characters the understated ferocity and emotional accountability it deserves.

Memorable Dialogue: Sylvia meets with Saul after the following incident, but before her accusation:

Saul: I’m sorry I made you feel uncomfortable the other night. Sylvia: It’s fine. Sayl: It’s not fine.

Sex and Skin: Topless Chastain in a bathtub makeout session; incidental frontal Sarsgaard.

Our Take: Memory is a story about incredibly vulnerable people who bear significant burdens, and may find some lightness within each other. It’s not surprising to see Saul and Sylvia overcome the initial awkwardness of their meeting and, once she accepts a second job as his caretaker, pursue a relationship of some intimacy; what’s surprising is the optimism that lurks in the margins of the narrative, unusual for a Michel Franco film. Which isn’t to say the director has compromised his razorlike sensibilities – this film is full of unflinching, long-take dialogue sequences that land heavy dramatic blows. But these characters, rendered complex and empathetic by Chastain and Sarsgaard, endure, and for that you’ll be grateful.

And yet. The story unfolds on a faultline, especially concerning the Saul character, who’s presented to us with a distinct can’t-quite-draw-a-bead-on-this-guy Sarsgaardian quality that shifts from Creep Mode to one of heartbreaking empathy as we get to know him. We don’t know exactly what Saul comprehends on a moment-by-moment basis, including possibly who Sylvia is; take the earlier scene where Sylvia examines a photo of his late wife, who bears a more-than-passing resemblance. Saul is a character who must live with his vulnerabilities always and forever at the surface, the psychological yin to Sylvia’s yang. She does her damnedest to keep her own crippling vulnerabilities at bay, a dynamic that comes into play with her daughter, who fights her mother’s instinct to be overprotective, and the introduction of Sylvia’s estranged mother Samantha (Jessica Harper), who’s been gaslighting her daughter for decades, exacerbating her trauma.

Considering the circumstances, one wonders if Saul and Sylvia will ever truly connect. Is it OK if they don’t? I think so. There’s great value in any connection; they seem to understand each other to a significant degree; compromise is inevitable in any relationship. Franco uses their unusual, not-traditionally-romantic romance as a home base to explore dramatic tension, and we watch as he deflates one conflict only to inflate the next. That’s just life, right? You move on from the stresses of one situation for the inevitable stresses of the next. You might not feel alive without it, and Franco, again perhaps surprisingly, makes us feel a little better about Saul and Sylvia, that their friendship and lives aren’t hopeless. 

Our Call: Memory is weighty and intense and therefore not an easy watch, but its thematic richness and fully committed performances render it a more-than-worthy adult drama. STREAM IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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movie reviews on memory

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Memory Reviews

movie reviews on memory

I do applaud Memory for accomplishing the impossible, which is to make you forget about virtually every aspect of the film by the time the lights go back up in the cinema.

Full Review | Original Score: D | Mar 6, 2024

movie reviews on memory

Memory seethes with evil deeds and evil-doers motivated by nothing more than greed and a lust for power. And for once, Neeson’s character isn’t a blinding ray of light purifying everything around him through sheer will power and clenched fists.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Dec 5, 2022

movie reviews on memory

An above-average Liam Neeson action piece...Aimed squarely at an adult audience that doesn't mind lots of plot talk, veteran director Martin Campbell gives th proceedings an usually jagged edge that lifts it above more formula-minded genre pieces.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Oct 30, 2022

movie reviews on memory

Personally I think what Liam Neeson should do is order a hit on the role of hit man and have a go at doing something different.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Oct 18, 2022

movie reviews on memory

[Memory] offers only predictable plotting and fitful thrills.

Full Review | Oct 7, 2022

movie reviews on memory

Casino Royale director Martin Campbell makes great use of his locations, but the film is unlikely to linger long in your own memory.

Full Review | Oct 6, 2022

movie reviews on memory

Props to Campbell and Neeson for trying to spice up the usual murderous melange, but <i>Memory</i> ends up just as forgettable as all those other flicks.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Sep 16, 2022

movie reviews on memory

You can pretty much forget about it.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Aug 23, 2022

... An empty, repetitive, and ultimately, forgettable. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Jul 25, 2022

movie reviews on memory

When it comes to his thriller outings, autopilot is the only speed he [Neeson] has.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Jun 14, 2022

movie reviews on memory

The unnecessarily convoluted psychological thriller “Memory” proves two things: 1) That Liam Neeson, when he wants to, can really act; and, 2) that Liam Neeson acting doesn’t mesh well with Liam Neeson being an action star.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | May 29, 2022

movie reviews on memory

It is a Liam Neeson movie, no more no less - it is a Liam Neeson movie.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/10 | May 22, 2022

... Lots of fights, lots of chases, lots of bullets, lots of death. Lots of lots. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | May 20, 2022

Although this new film is not exceptional, it has a few aces up its sleeve. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | May 19, 2022

movie reviews on memory

Memory is ironically named, because it is yet another Liam Neeson movie that you will completely forget about as soon as you reach the parking lot.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/5 | May 19, 2022

Memory isn't a Neeson action vehicle nor the sordid noir the original was, resulting in an acceptable yet inconsequential movie. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 6/10 | May 17, 2022

movie reviews on memory

Set to turn 70 in June, Liam Neeson is still on his game in this forgettable action thriller in which he plays a professional assassin suffering from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's/dementia.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/10 | May 13, 2022

movie reviews on memory

By no means is this thriller destined to become a classic, but it’s a satisfying indulgence.

Full Review | May 10, 2022

movie reviews on memory

I wish I could forget it!

movie reviews on memory

[Neeson's] charm is dulled by Lewis' failing mind and a script that neglects backstory and character development, all of which leave us feeling detached from his performance ... If given the choice to strike Memory from our own memory, we gladly would.

Full Review | May 9, 2022

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movie reviews on memory

  • DVD & Streaming
  • Drama , Thriller

Content Caution

Memory movie

In Theaters

  • April 29, 2022
  • Liam Neeson as Alex Lewis; Guy Pearce as Vincent Serra; Monica Bellucci as Davana Sealman; Ray Stevenson as Detective Danny Mora; Ray Fearon as Special Agent Gerald Nussbaum

Home Release Date

  • June 21, 2022
  • Martin Campbell

Distributor

  • Briarcliff Entertainment

Movie Review

Where did he put the keys? They should be here under the windshield visor. That’s where he always leaves them. He wouldn’t have taken them into the hospital with him. Would he? No, no. That would be crazy. Sloppy. Bad, bad, bad.

They’re not on the seat. Not in his pants pocket. In his shirt! Yes, he put them in his scrubs’ top pocket. That’s right, he was masquerading as an orderly this time. Hospital. Scrubs. Right.

He almost forced himself to retrace his steps back through the lobby and into the room where he garroted his mark’s throat. Blood everywhere. People walking by. Bad. That would have been an amateur mistake. He never makes those. Or … he didn’t.

But things are getting worse.

Alex Lewis has long known that the decline would happen. Alzheimer’s disease has hit his whole family this way. His older brother is little more than an empty … uh, just empty at this point. For Alex, it’s only been little things: a key, a picture, a word, a note. That’s why he’s taken to writing instructions and reminders on his own arm. But for some jobs, like Alex’s, you can’t be plagued with memory loss or the threat of a rubbed-off message.

Killers can’t be losing track of things. Not even keys. In this line of work, it won’t get you fired. It’ll get you dead.

He even tried to quit. But his handler talked him out of it. “Men like us, don’t retire,” he told Alex. But what do you do when you can’t remember the address, the name, the … thingamajig any longer? What then?

Just one more job. Make it a big one. And then he’ll have enough cash to hide himself away somewhere, maybe. He’ll have to leave what’s left of his brother behind. But, hey, soon enough he’ll probably forget him anyway.

Just one last, uh … whatchamacallit. Then he’ll be fine.[ Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections. ]

Positive Elements

Alex’s next job changes everything, as he’s called upon to kill a teen girl who had been dragged into child prostitution by sex trafficking ring. Obviously, that’s not good. Alex, however, can’t force himself to follow through. But the girl is brutally murdered anyway by someone else. Alex, feeling that he’s close to losing everything anyway, takes it upon himself to hunt down those calling the shots. He also helps an FBI agent named Vincent Serra. Vincent had gone out of his way to help protect the abused girl—who was left homeless after a police sting went wrong.

Both men attempt to bring the powerbrokers behind the much larger trafficking operation to justice. Of course, their methods for doing so are much different. “We all have to die, Vincent. What’s important is what we do before we go,” Alex tells the FBI agent.

Amid a tainted justice system, we see very few good men and women. Vincent is one of a rare breed here.

Spiritual Elements

A Mexican detective wears six St. Mary medals around his neck to remind him of abused and murdered young women that he’s encountered in the course of a human trafficking case.

Someone says a prayer in Spanish and ends it with an affirmative “Amen.”

Sexual Content

We see several different women wearing open shirts or low-cut tops. One of them is in a formfitting swimsuit. Part of Vincent’s investigation into a sexual trafficking ring involves him paying, supposedly, to have sex with a man’s teen daughter. The girl undresses to a lightweight shift, but then discovers that Vincent is wearing a wire when she pulls open his shirt.

Later we see snapshots of that same teen girl being slapped by her father and a short video of her being tossed onto a bed by a shirtless older man. Later still, we see that same man at a yacht party. He strips off his clothes and lays face down on a bed and orders a different teen girl to get undressed. (She’s stopped from doing so.) The party also features an onboard hot tub packed with young women in bikinis.

A wife suspects her husband of an affair and demands he wash off the woman’s perfume. A woman openly flirts with Alex at a bar and later—after Alex slaps down a drunken man rudely hitting on her—the two end up in bed together. We see her in a cleavage-baring slip the next morning.

Violent Content

There’s quite a bit of brawling and death-dealing in this R-rated pic. Alex pounds away at several men in and out of the course of his job. He also breaks a man’s nose with a rifle butt. He batters another guy in a public restroom, smashing the man through a porcelain toilet. He slaps a drunk around at a hotel bar, slamming his head into the bar.

In another scene, Alex beats a killer mercilessly, slamming the man’s head and face into a car mirror and through a window. He then ties the bloodied man into the car and detonates a bomb on the vehicle’s undercarriage. We see him shoot several people in the head, up close and at a distance. He rips open a man’s gushing neck with a wire garrote.

In turn, Alex is also beaten badly by an angry police officer in a police interview. And the guy notes that he’ll take all afternoon to beat a confession out of him.

We’re shown pictures of two young boys with bruises all over their backs. A young girl is battered. We see her later with a bloody bullet hole in her forehead. A woman’s throat is slashed open by a man behind her, and the camera watches her bleed out. An innocent woman is shot in the throat by a gunman. Alex is shot in the side at one point and his shirt soon becomes soaked with blood. He opens his shirt, revealing the wound, then pours vodka on it and lights it afire to cauterize the laceration.

Someone tells a story about his wife getting hit by a drunk driver who then backs up to kill her son so there wouldn’t be any witnesses. A police sniper kills an innocent man. A man is riddled with bullets from police fire. Vincent tumbles out a second story window with an armed man who dies in the fall.

Crude or Profane Language

Some 40 f-words and a dozen s-words are joined by multiple uses of “a–hole” and “h—.” God’s and Jesus’ names are misused seven times total (with God’s name being combined with “d–n” once).

Drug and Alcohol Content

Both Alex and Vincent drink pretty heavily in several separate scenes. We see others drinking champagne, wine and booze at bars and at a yacht party. Vincent and a fellow female agent get drunk at a bar. A man and woman drink shots of tequila. A murder victim’s wife is visibly drunk during a police interview.

Two different guys smoke cigarettes.

Alex regularly takes a prescription medication designed to help his Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. A wealthy woman receives injections of a drug from her private physician. And a doctor moves to give someone a lethal injection before he’s stopped. We’re told of a man who was high on meth.

Other Negative Elements

This film declares that criminal organizations have corrupted many in the high seats of power in the U.S. criminal justice system (and in Washington, D.C.). We see several different people in authority corrupted by money and promises of power. And in the end, it’s suggested that murder may be the only way to solve that systemic disease.

Some might winkingly say that Liam Neeson is yet again playing a hero who has something, ahem, taken from him: this time his memory.

But that’s not accurate, really. In part, that’s because Neeson initially plays a true villain here, albeit someone with a conscience that’s starting to awaken. So when he’s not killing people in the film Memory, he’s straining to give heavy handed aid to the real hero before he loses himself to Alzheimer’s.

We’re shown child sex trafficking and gory murder in a crime-riddled world rotted to the core by graft and power. And it’s all part and parcel of a badly broken and horribly corrupted U.S. justice system.

Does that make for a stark social commentary? Maybe. But it also leaves you stewing in a fairly dark worldview. And no amount of orange soda and Gummy bears will make that depressing and often foul viewpoint any sweeter.

The Plugged In Show logo

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.

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Common sense media reviewers.

movie reviews on memory

Convoluted fright flick less scary than confusing.

Memory Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Serial killer/child kidnapper remains at large for

Scary scenes show young girls being kidnapped (one

Killer dresses up kidnapped little girls in white

Several uses of "f--k," plus other langu

A Burberry trenchcoat plays a key role in the main

A hallucinogenic drug is at the center of the myst

Parents need to know that this confusing horror movie depends on dark shadows, spastic camerawork, and not-spooky-enough music to make up for lack of sense and tension. The main character's nightmares/memories occur erratically and confuse -- rather than clarify -- matters. Sexual activity is brief, starting with…

Positive Messages

Serial killer/child kidnapper remains at large for decades; so-called good-guy doctors break into homes, exchange files illegally, and lie to their loved ones.

Violence & Scariness

Scary scenes show young girls being kidnapped (one screams as her father is knocked out and can't help her); two girls perish in an elementary school fire (the killer traps them there; viewers hear screaming and see flames); a girl uses her bracelet to cut the killer, drawing blood; repeated chase scenes are hectic and dark; body suffused with red ochre powder looks grotesque; killer makes porcelain masks of girls before killing them; final chase and fight in basement/catacombs is rendered with hectic camerawork and editing; killer screams a lot.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Killer dresses up kidnapped little girls in white dresses (no sexual activity implied, but significant gender definition by way of "preserving innocence"); Deep tells Taylor he "needs to get laid" Stephanie appears in her bra during a strip poker game, then slips it off to kiss Taylor; they next appear naked in bed (under covers) talking about their pasts.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Several uses of "f--k," plus other language -- "s--t," "hell," "damn."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

A Burberry trenchcoat plays a key role in the main character's nightmares.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A hallucinogenic drug is at the center of the mystery; killer stabs victims with a needle filled with a knockout drug; wine, liquor, and beer drinking; one cigar smoked.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this confusing horror movie depends on dark shadows, spastic camerawork, and not-spooky-enough music to make up for lack of sense and tension. The main character's nightmares/memories occur erratically and confuse -- rather than clarify -- matters. Sexual activity is brief, starting with drinks and strip poker and ending with a couple in bed under the covers. The serial killer doesn't appear to commit sexual acts on the kidnapped girls, but he does frighten them and make plaster casts of their faces before killing them off screen. A couple of kidnappings are visible and creepy, with girls screaming in fear. There is some social drinking, and the effects of hallucinatory drug (delirium, anxiety) are shown. Language includes several uses of "f--k." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

Where to Watch

Community reviews.

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There aren't any parent reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the Story?

Dr. Taylor Briggs ( Billy Zane ), a researcher who specializes in Alzheimer's syndrome (his mother is afflicted), is exposed to an ancient Amazonian Indian powder that purportedly allows users to see the past through the eyes of their ancestors. Taylor's best friend/fellow researcher Deep (Terry Chen) calls it "mystic mumbo jumbo" -- but Taylor is soon having "memories" that seem structured like nightmares, in which he runs through mud and woods after a figure dressed in a porcelain mask and a black Burberry trench coat. Conveniently, the figure leaves a newspaper for Taylor to find, dated March 21, 1971 -- a year before he was born. As the memories become more elaborate, Taylor learns that the subject was also a kidnapper and killer of little girls. He also discovers a local artist, Stephanie ( Battlestar Galactica 's Tricia Helfer), who has painted a scary figure in the woods who looks just like his nightmare/memory. They're soon sleeping together and working to solve the mystery.

Is It Any Good?

Memory 's slide into total nonsense (made concrete in an intricate, multi-room killer's lair decorated with decades' worth of collected trophies and throbbing green light) is set up early. The fact that the film raises worthy questions about experience, memory, and identity is too bad. They're pretty much lost inside a forgettable plot.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about different types of horror movies. What category does this one fall into? Which movies is it similar to (and different from)? Why are so many movies made about serial killers? Families can also talk about the connections between memory and identity. What does Taylor mean when he says that "Our lives are nothing more than our memories"? The director says the plot is based on science: Does it seem possible that people might transmit memories through DNA to our children?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : March 23, 2007
  • On DVD or streaming : May 22, 2007
  • Cast : Ann-Margret , Billy Zane , Dennis Hopper
  • Director : Bennett Davlin
  • Studio : Eastgate Pictures
  • Genre : Horror
  • Run time : 98 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : language and frightening images.
  • Last updated : February 28, 2022

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movie reviews on memory

  • Cast & crew
  • User reviews

Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory (2023)

Sylvia is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life. This is blown open when Saul follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impac... Read all Sylvia is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life. This is blown open when Saul follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impact both of them as they open the door to the past. Sylvia is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life. This is blown open when Saul follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impact both of them as they open the door to the past.

  • Michel Franco
  • Alan Nehama
  • Dutch Welch
  • Aliya Campbell
  • 25 User reviews
  • 97 Critic reviews
  • 71 Metascore
  • 2 wins & 4 nominations

Official Trailer

Top cast 49

  • (as Vilma Donovan)

Sarah Elizabeth Grace

  • (as Catherine A. Taaffe)

Josh Philip Weinstein

  • (as Josh P. Weinstein)

Brian Kelly

  • All cast & crew
  • Production, box office & more at IMDbPro

More like this

The Second Act

Did you know

  • Trivia According to Variety, Jessica Chastain recommended Peter Sarsgaard for the role of Saul.
  • Connections Features Basquiat (1996)
  • Soundtracks A Whiter Shade of Pale Written by Keith Reid , Gary Brooker , and Matthew Fisher Published by TRO - Essex Music, Inc.

Technical specs

  • Runtime 1 hour 43 minutes

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COMMENTS

  1. Memory movie review & film summary (2023)

    Tweet. Now streaming on: Powered by JustWatch. "Memory," writer-director Michel Franco 's slippery dementia drama, is the kind of film that, initially, is so familiar and heavy-handed that your immediate impulse is to reject it. After all, it begins by capturing participants at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, photographed in oblique ...

  2. 'Memory' Review: Jessica Chastain and Peter Sargaard Are ...

    Venice Film Festival. 'Memory' Review: Michel Franco Gets Unforgettable Performances From Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, Sept. 5, 2023. In Venice ...

  3. Memory movie review & film summary (2022)

    Advertisement. "Memory" does begin to work when Neeson gets a hold of script's more dramatically impactful moments, but these scenes are simply too few and far between to be truly effective. Dario Scardapane 's screenplay tends to put more of an emphasis on the big action beats, which are implausible enough as is and doubly so when you ...

  4. Memory (2023)

    Memory (2023) Memory (2023) Memory (2023) Memory (2023) Memory (2023) View more photos Movie Info Synopsis Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life: her ...

  5. 'Memory' Review: Jessica Chastain in Michel Franco's Moving Drama

    September 8, 2023 12:30pm. Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in 'Memory.'. Yves Cape. The title of Michel Franco 's laser-like drama about trauma and connection, Memory, embraces past ...

  6. Memory (2022)

    R Released Apr 29, 2022 1h 54m Action Mystery & Thriller. TRAILER for Memory: Trailer 1. List. 29% Tomatometer 101 Reviews. 80% Audience Score 250+ Verified Ratings. Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) is a ...

  7. 'Memory' Review: Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard Shine

    Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard Are So Weirdly Right Together in. Memory. Not a lot of Michel Franco's somber drama makes sense, but it's a movie clearly meant to be carried by its leads ...

  8. Liam Neeson in 'Memory' Review

    Director: Martin Campbell. Screenwriter: Dario Scardapane. Rated R, 1 hour 54 minutes. To believe, as we're meant to, that Neeson's Alex Lewis spent his formative years in El Paso, Texas ...

  9. 'Memory' Review: A Trauma Plot

    Franco, whose movies include "After Lucia" and "Sundown," likes to approach his anguish-laden stories (of rape, abuse, murder) with relatively calculated coolness and art film-lite trappings.

  10. 'Memory' review: Two wary survivors bond in an oblique drama

    Review: In 'Memory,' two survivors come to a wary bond, even if the past harbors demons. Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in the movie "Memory.". (Ketchup Entertainment) By Robert ...

  11. 'Memory' Review: Jessica Chastain Stuns in Michel Franco's Melodrama

    'Memory' Review: Jessica Chastain Is a Caretaker with Demons in Michel Franco's Demented Romance The usually austere "New Order" director opens his heart just a crack for this luminously sad ...

  12. Memory

    Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Jun 20, 2024. Memory is a remarkably humane film that avoids any obvious missteps that would see it collapse into movie-of-the-week social issue melodrama ...

  13. Memory review: Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard rise above this

    Memory would be too contrived a work to buy into if it weren't for the talents of Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Mexico's Michel Franco - a light provocateur known for his ...

  14. 'Memory' review: Strangers make a surprising connection in Michel

    'Memory' review: Strangers make a surprising connection in Michel Franco's film Peter Sarsgaard is a man with early-onset dementia and Jessica Chastain is a single mother with a traumatic past in ...

  15. Movie Review: 'Memory' With Liam Neeson and Guy Pearce

    Movie Review: In Martin Campbell's Memory, Liam Neeson plays a hitman suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, and Guy Pearce is an FBI agent working to take down a trafficking cartel. Neeson ...

  16. Memory Review

    Memory Review. A recovering addict (Jessica Chastain) with a traumatic past lets her walls down for . a sweet, handsome man (Peter Sarsgaard) with early-onset dementia. Despite the fact that ...

  17. 'Memory' Review: Getting Too Old for This

    Whatever appeal this film had in its original iteration has been sapped out, leaving a story that, when not completely vexing, is either mind-numbing or hilarious by accident. Memory. Rated R for ...

  18. Memory (2023 film)

    Memory is a 2023 American drama film starring Jessica Chastain as Sylvia, a single mother and social worker grappling with her past, and Peter Sarsgaard as Saul, a man suffering from early onset dementia, in a story that intertwines their troubled lives following a high school reunion. The film is written and directed by Michel Franco.It also stars Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher ...

  19. Memory (2022)

    Memory: Directed by Martin Campbell. With Liam Neeson, Guy Pearce, Taj Atwal, Harold Torres. An assassin-for-hire finds that he's become a target after he refuses to complete a job for a dangerous criminal organization.

  20. Memory Movie Review

    In MEMORY (a remake of the 2003 Belgian thriller Memory of a Killer), aging assassin Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) is ready to retire, but his employer insists that he take one last job.When he realizes he's been hired to kill a teen girl, he refuses to complete the job. This puts a target on his back, and as he learns more about the dangerous criminal organization that hired him -- uncovering a ...

  21. Memory Movie Review

    What you will—and won't—find in this movie. Positive Messages. The movie is largely about compassion and finding. Positive Role Models. It's hard to call the characters role models, sinc. Diverse Representations. There's not much racial or cultural diversity in t. Violence & Scariness. Graphic dialogue about sexual abuse, rape, and dom.

  22. Jessica Chastain 'Memory' Movie Paramount Plus Streaming Review: Stream

    Memory is on the same searingly melodramatic wavelength as Franco's previous film, 2022's Sundown (but is markedly different from the terrifying, and far less subtle, speculative fiction of ...

  23. Memory

    Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Jun 14, 2022. The unnecessarily convoluted psychological thriller "Memory" proves two things: 1) That Liam Neeson, when he wants to, can really act; and, 2 ...

  24. Memory

    Someone tells a story about his wife getting hit by a drunk driver who then backs up to kill her son so there wouldn't be any witnesses. A police sniper kills an innocent man. A man is riddled with bullets from police fire. Vincent tumbles out a second story window with an armed man who dies in the fall.

  25. Memory Movie Review

    Our review: Parents say: Not yet rated Rate movie. Kids say: Not yet rated Rate movie. Memory 's slide into total nonsense (made concrete in an intricate, multi-room killer's lair decorated with decades' worth of collected trophies and throbbing green light) is set up early. The fact that the film raises worthy questions about experience ...

  26. Memory (2023)

    Memory: Directed by Michel Franco. With Alan Nehama, Dutch Welch, Aliya Campbell, Donald McQueen. Sylvia is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life. This is blown open when Saul follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impact both of them as they open the door to the past.