Memory review: "Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard make a riveting duo"

(Image: © Bohemia Media)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A tough and draining watch that’s worth enduring for its well-matched leads’ compelling star turns.

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A woman who can’t forget meets a man who can’t remember in a thorny drama from Mexico’s Michel Franco that is bleak, sad and hopeful in equal measure. Both a showcase for two superb performances and a complex meditation on how the past shapes the present, Memory is also a romance in which two damaged souls forge an unlikely connection in the face of unresolved trauma and mental deterioration.

Care worker Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a recovering alcoholic whose life revolves around her job, her sobriety and teenage daughter Anna (Brooke Timber). When a high-school reunion ends with a fellow attendee following her home, her well-ordered existence gets disconcertingly disrupted.

The man she awakes to find still slumped on her doorstep is Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), a widower living with early onset dementia who may or may not be one of the classmates who assaulted Sylvia when she was a teenager. An offer from Saul’s niece (Eight Grade’s Elsie Fisher) to step in as his carer might be a chance for Sylvia to exact retribution – if only she could be as sure of her recollections as Saul is as shorn of his.

Chastain and Sarsgaard make a riveting duo in a film that – like Franco’s Tim Roth double Chronic and Sundown before it – is in no great hurry to elucidate its mysteries. An electrifying late confrontation between Sylvia and her estranged mother (Jessica Harper) offers a degree of clarity, however, while the ending does at least contain a glimmer of hard-won optimism.

Memory is in US theaters now and in UK cinemas from February 23. 

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.