Screens Forget me not 

Memory of a Killer's addled old soul unloads a conscience-ful of bullets in a final act of redemption

Belgium, judged solely by films set in the small European country, is a cold, emotionally strictured and culturally ambivalent place, reviled equally by the sensual French and the militaristic German. It is telling that in the new film The Memory of a Killer, our likable hero investigators are a somewhat Americanized prankster, Freddy Verstuyft (De Smedt), and a tall brooder, Eric Vincke (De Bouw), who is ridiculed as an "intellectual" by the beat cops. The ultimate bad guy could be transferred, wardrobe, chess set and all, to a Nazi-commandeered villa, circa 1939; our anti-hero is an expatriate in love with Marseilles and possessed of skills that would have come in handy in the Resistance.

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Jan Decleir portrays an aging hitman with a heart of glass in Memory of a Killer.

But Memory ostensibly is not a cultural investigation but a simple political thriller with a twist: Verstuyft and Vincke, investigating two puzzling but seemingly unrelated murders are aided by a hitman (the magnetic Decleir) who plays cat and mouse with them while increasingly beset by the symptoms of Alzheimer's. An interesting premise, but at the conclusion of the film's two hours, I found myself struggling to recall what was so engaging about the film's opening 30 minutes.

Memory begins promisingly - if over-dramatically; child prostitution is horrifying enough on its own, so skip the thunderstorm - with a father busted for pimping out his 12-year-old daughter and, far away at a seaside café, an aging assassin dispatched to Bruges for a two-part mission. Soon, the viewer is in on the entire game, which naturally (and without complaint from me) includes high-level political involvement in paid-for sexual perversion and a hitman who turns out to have one shred of conscience left.

The Memory of a Killer / De Zaak Alzheimer

Dir. Erik van Looy; writ. Looy, Carl Joos, based on the novel by Jef Geeraerts; feat. Jan Decleir, Deborah Ostrega, Koen De Bouw, Werner De Smedt, Hilde De Baerdemaeker, Patrick Descam, Jo De Meyere (R)

This God's-eye view effectively removes most of the suspense, and leaves the viewer to rely on the relationship developing between the hitman, Angelo Ledda - whose name evokes both angels and swans (explaining to the yet-unsuspecting Verstuyft how to spell his name, the cultured killer references "Leda and the Swan") - and the virtuous but ballsy Vincke. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't offer us a psychological development to justify Ledda's sudden desire to pull the police into his personal vendetta. One minute he's a solitary avenging angel, the fallen Michael, willing himself out of hell for the sake of a lost girl's soul; the next he's a serial killer straight out of a Hollywood studio. A leggy, CSI-worthy detective who adds nothing but eye candy to the proceedings doesn't erase the perception.

Despite these shortcomings, there are pleasures to be had in Memory, primarily from the three main actors, who, though they fail to connect with one another, show fleeting moments of star power, leading me to conclude that it is the director and writer who failed them, and not the other way around.

By Elaine Wolff


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