"The Memory of a Killer", a new Belgian film, received a very limited theatrical release buoyed by positive reviews from Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. The film was recently released on DVD prompting Ebert and Roeper to profile it again, so I rented it.
Angelo Ledda (Jan De Cleir) is a professional hit man and after years of fulfilling various contracts, he finds himself at a crossroads. Experiencing the first stages of Alzheimer's, he writes important information of his arm; hotel name, room number, contacts, name of his hit. Arriving in Antwerp, he meets with his new employer and goes about his first assignment, the City Planner. Vincke (Koen De Bouw) and Verstufyt (Werner De Smedt), two of the top detectives, and seemingly the only honest cops, in the Antwerp police department, uncover a child prostitution ring and save a 13 year old girl from her father. Soon, the paths of these characters will cross.
"The Memory of a Killer" shows great promise. The first two thirds of the film are effectively tense as we follow the two different storylines, watching as they move closer and closer to one another. The more interesting story belongs to Ledda, the contract killer. As he attempts to survive with his new condition, the character actually manages to make us feel empathy towards him, even as he sets out to fulfill his contracts and kill people. We begin to care for this person because he is experiencing something terrifying, something we could all, at some point, experience; the onset of Alzheimer's.
As Ledda goes about his job, we see evidence of his skill. Even dealing with the disease, he proves to be a scary guy. Brief moments of memory loss temporarily disorient him, but he quickly refocuses and finishes the task at hand. Even with this disease, he proves to be ruthless, efficient and quite good at his job. It would be terrifying to watch him working at the height of his powers. Jan De Cleir is quite good as the aging assassin. His intensity is a good match for the effects of the disease.
Less effective, director Erik Van Looy employs a number of camera angles, movements and editing tricks to convey Ledda's vision of the disease. So for each of these brief moments of memory loss, we see a quick barrage of camera angles, grainy film, quick zooms and the like. Instead of adequately conveying the character's feelings, these sequences resemble a bad music video or the fight sequences from the old "Batman" television series. They serve to remove us from the story, drawing attention to the fact we are watching a film.
Vincke and Verstufyt are also interesting. The Belgium equivalent of Riggs and Murtaugh ("Lethal Weapon") or any other cop/ buddy duo in American films, they follow pretty closely to the rule book, the rule book all movie detectives/ cops follow. Honest to a "T", they are the type of cops who obsess over any unsolved case. After they rescue the 13 year old girl, Vincke becomes a guardian angel to her, watching out for her welfare, from a distance.
When the two stories merge, we suddenly see how all of the different plot points click into place. What part does the 13 year old girl play? The City Planner? What is the connection between the people Ledda is hired to kill? The story seems complicated, but everything has been laid out for us. If you pay attention, everything will make sense.
The final act is a disappointment. After a tense game of cat and mouse, with the detectives always a foot behind Ledda, the story abruptly changes, thrusting all three characters into an extended situation. The change is too abrupt and doesn't work well with the rest of the story.
The first two thirds of "Killer" creates a genuine level of suspense, despite the fact the film is clearly the work of a director who loves American films. "Killer" almost seems a homage to the films he loves, yanking bits and pieces from other films and tying them all together. During the last act, the film falls apart because it can't maintain everything it has going; suspense, character study, action, homage to American films. This is unfortunate because the last half hour drags and this hurts our impression of the film, leaving us with a slightly marred memory of the story. Perhaps this is the director's way of imposing a little of Ledda's life upon us.