The Memory of a Killer. Sony Pictures Classics, 2006. Original title: De zaak Alzheimer. Erik Van Looy, director; Erwin Provoost & Hilde de Delaere, producers ; Carl Joos & Erik Van Looy, screenwriters. Based on the novel by Jef Geeraerts. Originally released as a motion picture in 2005. Performers: Jan Decleir, Koen De Bouw, Werner De Smedt, Jo De Meyere. Summary: International hit man Angelo Ledda decides to retire after he begins to suffer from Alzheimer’s. He reluctantly accepts one last job, but when learning one target is a teenage girl, he breaks the deal. Dramatic repercussions follow.
As portrayed in the popular media the proverbial sympathetic assassin is often more likeable than his marks. This is partially explained by the had-it-coming quality of the victims: pornographers, mafia chieftains, drug kingpins, fellow hit men (only sleazier), war criminals, brutal dictators, and so on. As our title character puts it so well, if over-simplistically, he actually helps the police by ridding the world of the bad guys.
Films like Prizzi’s Honor, The Whole Nine Yards, Day of the Jackal, The Professional, and Matador, other movies too, I suppose, have flirted with the unlikely theme of the hired killer as quasi-hero. And true to the tradition, our (anti)hero in Memory of a Killer engages our sympathies even while committing some unpalatable transgressions, killing a couple of good guys among them. But there are mitigating factors: he suffers from oncoming Alzheimer’s Disease, a most inconvenient affliction in his line. We also admire his professional, and humanistic, standards – he doesn’t kill children, and his mantra ‘you don’t touch children’ plays an important part in the story’s thread.
In one sense Memory is just a good mystery thriller with a bit of a twist at the end. But in other ways it’s so much more. The best assassin movies are as much about character as anything else and Memory does not disappoint. In its deceptively brisk 123 minutes it explores many shadings of character good, bad & in between, and in best noir-esque fashion reveals – or perhaps obscures – the murky nuances of individuals on both sides of the law. A nicely handled American style inter-departmental turf war subplot adds texture to the proceedings.
One reviewer compares this film with El Secreto de Sus Ojos and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the comparisons are apropos: the crime thriller genre executed with European pacing and tone which emphasizes inner and not outer action.
A Belgian production made with limited resources put to maximum use, Memory’s cast and technical values are first rate. Jan Decleir, perhaps best known to American audiences as the ruthless bailiff in Character, here is cast in much the same mold: a dedicated, world weary pro with his own sense of honor. Decleir is just plain terrific, his marvelous take on the role serving as the glue that holds the film’s narrative together. Other nice performances abound: Koen De Bouw’s intense, no-nonsense lead investigator; Werner De Smedt as De Bouw’s wise-guy sidekick; and Jo De Meyere as the nervous industrialist who has shady secrets. Deborah Ostrega’s high class call girl and Lone van Roosendaal’s scrumptious, not-so-grieving widow add fetching support.
There’s not a lot new here but the tried and true formula has seldom been presented so effectively. A minor masterpiece then with more than a hint of Law and Order, just better, lots better, Memory will keep your interest and nudge you to root for the right side to come out on top. In sum, it’s that all too rare species in modern cinematic fare: a police thriller with a heart.