The Memory of a Killer
(aka “De Zaak Alzheimer”)
Directed by Erik Van Looy
In Flemish and French with English Subtitles
The Memory of a Killer is a crime thriller from Belgium centered on an ageing hit man with a moral dilemma. Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) wants to retire but his boss in Marseilles tells him: “People like us never retire.” He knows that his mental capacity is slipping away – he has to write notes to himself on his forearm so he can’t lose them. Angelo looks to be in his seventies but when he goes to work he’s still an efficient killing machine. It makes one wonder what he was like earlier in his career. His latest job takes him back to his native Antwerp – bringing back memories but also giving him a bit of home-court advantage. After dispatching his first victim and finding that his second assignment is a young girl, he rebels against his employers, setting up our story. The bad guys – including some corrupt politicians – are out to get Angelo since he turned on them. Meanwhile the cops slowly piece together the clues relating to several murders.
The conflict is four-sided – there are the smart cops, the bumbling cops, Angelo Ledda, and the really bad guys who are trying to kill Angelo for fear that he may expose them – they’re involved in child prostitution. The theme of dueling sets of cops isn’t new but here it is played differently – and I thought perhaps more realistically. The incompetent cops (the gendarme) aren’t presented as funny (a very wise decision) but as pompous and bureaucratic – they become unwitting helpers of the real bad guys – by slowing down the good cops. Our heroes, the “judiciary” cops - led by Captain Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) are sharp, agile and versatile – and they need all of that to have a chance of catching Angelo Ledda before the real bad guys get him.
A hit man with Alzheimer’s disease sounds like a comic setup but Jan Decleir’s Angelo Ledda is not only the centerpiece of the film but perhaps the most compelling antihero to make it to the big screen in years. Ledda struggles to maintain composure but is still highly effective as a killer while also having a bout of conscience over the little girl’s involvement. One of many things I liked about the character: they resisted the temptation to completely rehabilitate him. When he turns he doesn’t become a goody-two-shoes… he sets out to knock off the bad guys. That’s the way Ledda deals with problems – that’s who he is. He reaches out to Captain Vincke but doesn’t slow the rate of carnage one iota. The Ledda character is well conceived, written, and performed -- a masterpiece.
According to the August 26, 2005 edition of Hollywood Reporter, the English-language rights to this film have been purchased by Focus Features. I didn’t know that when I walked out of the theater but I did reflect that somebody in Hollywood should recognize the tremendous potential that an American adaptation of this movie holds. I really hope that the American filmmakers stay true to the main characters – particularly Ledda – in the re-make.
A couple of other interesting aspects… the use of percussion during the action sequences – a common tool, but very well done here. I also enjoyed the Flemish (which is very close to Dutch) dialog. Flemish, Dutch and English derived from “Low German” so there are many similarities among the basic building-block words – the pronunciation differs but it’s an interesting language. The Memory of a Killer is well shot – a good-looking film – but it won’t lose so much visually that it would be a shame to see it on DVD. In fact, you may be eager to see it a second time since it’s so densely packed – in terms of character and story. Having it on DVD could be handy.
Images are copyright Sony Entertainment Inc.
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