The Memory of a Killer (De Zaak Alzheimer)


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Memory of a Killer (De Zaak Alzheimer)

The Memory of a Killer (De Zaak Alzheimer)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Hired assassin Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir), unbeknownst to those around him, is on his last job. He is contracted to kill two people in Belgium and readily dispatches the first of the targets. He also acquires some incriminating video and audiotapes. But, when he learns that his second hit is a 12-year old girl he refuses to fulfill the contract, earning the ire of his boss, Gilles (Patrick Descamps). Angelo, plagued by the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, must move quickly to expose political blackmail before he loses forever “The Memory of a Killer.”

Robin:
Flemish novelist Jef Geeraerts titled his original work, written 20 years ago, De zaak Alzheimer (The Alzheimer Case), and it’s a shame that the US distributors of the film decided to change it to the more generic “The Memory of a Killer.” Unfortunately, I think the social connotations, in America, of “The Alzheimer Case” may have taxed some minds and make others think it a documentary. The original title really does say it all.

Things start out on a tense note as Detective Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) stages an undercover operation to expose a child prostitution ring. His cover is blown by the underage girl, Bieke (Laurien Van den Broeck), and the confrontation with her father/pimp, Vader Cuypers (Dirk Roofthooft), ends badly.

The action moves to Angelo Ledda as he accepts the job to take out his assigned two targets. Although he is having increasing problems with his memory because of his disease, he easily kills high-level Belgian official Bob Van Camp and acquires the very interesting video and audiotapes in the process. Angelo moves on to his next target but, before he can pull the trigger, he sees that she is just a child and moves back into the darkness. Gilles is none too happy that his employee failed him and finishes the job. The girl is Bieke.

Van Camp’s demise leads Detective Vincke and his partner, Freddy Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt), to investigate the crime and soon a link is made to Ledda. Angelo, in turn, is being hunted by Gilles for breaking the criminal world’s rules of conduct but the killer reverses the tables and kills his boss. The evidence of corruption Angelo uncovered leads him to his real client, Minister of State Baron de Haeck. A cat-and-mouse game ensues as Ledda enlists Vincke and Verstuyft to unravel the web of sexual blackmail and political intrigue before his mind fails him forever.

The Memory of a Killer” is a complicated crime thriller that blurs the lines between good and bad as Ledda refutes his past and use the evidence he has uncovered to undermine the corrupt Baron. He exacts his revenge on his former client and his underlings while giving Vincke cryptic but irrefutable evidence to bring down this corruption.

The story adaptation, by Carl Joos and director Looy, takes two tracks as it follows Ledda on his mission of revenge while Vincke and his partner hunt down the killer who leaves them tantalizing clues about the corruption. Jan Decleir does a superb job as the aging, pained hit man whose life is changed by his disease and the moment his keeper turned against him. This is a solid character study about a man teetering on the brink of, literally, losing his mind. Angelo fears that his infirmity will cause him to fail to be able to bring testimony against the Baron and this comes across palpably.

This aspect of “The Memory of a Murder” is nicely intertwined with Vincke and Verstuyft’s investigation into, at first, Van Camp’s death then, as Ledda leads them along, to shift their sights to bigger, more dangerous game. Koen De Bouw is believable as the dedicated cop who is offended by the behavior of his colleagues in another branch of the force. He hunts for Ledda with his usual zeal but sees that other things, like Bieke’s murder, are part of a larger, more sinister plot.  Werner De Smedt plays Freddy Verstuyft as an idealistic young cop who views things, like arresting Angelo, as his mission. He does glean things a bit more slowly than the more experienced Vincke but he is equally dedicated to a sense of justice.

The supporting cast is effectively fleshed out on all levels; from the other members of Vincke’s team to the power hungry Baron Gustave De Haeck (Jo De Meyere) and his corrupt son Jean (Tom Van Dyck). Els Dottermans helps to spicily churn things up as Eva Van Camp, the buxom, horny widow of Ledda’s first victim in the film. Laurien Van den Broeck is startling as the child whore Angelo was sent to kill.

The complex story line, if you pay attention, flows well and is helped by the many shootouts, chases and carefully staged assassinations. The filmmakers did not scrimp on the action and the influence of the best action scenes in “Heat” is obvious. Director of photography Danny Elsen keeps things dark and moody with lots of night shots and interiors with a deep blue palate that makes things cool and tense at once. Composer Stephen Warbeck’s score is in good keeping with the overall mood that Van Looy has created.

In the midst of all of this angst and action is a rather sad story, as Angelo knows that he is losing his faculties and is helpless to stop it. One touching scene brings Ledda to his older brother’s side. Paulo (Roland De Jonghe) also suffers from the debilitating disease but is in a more advanced, near catatonic state. Decleir epitomizes, in a look and a gesture as he kisses his sibling’s forehead, the understanding what his life will become.

The Memory of a Killer” is a sophisticated film that is much more than a crime drama. It deals with the Alzheimer condition in a thought provoking way that is as effective in bringing attention to the disease as any public service message. Solid direction, acting and production make this a pleasure to see. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Hit man Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir, "Character," "Rosenstraße," "Supertex") tells his contact he has retired in Marseilles, but Gilles (Patrick Descamps, "The Trilogy: On the Run, After the Life") won't take no for an answer.  Ledda completes his first mission, killing Antwerp's City Planning Manager Bob Van Camp (Lucas van den Eijnde) and procuring a video from his safe, but when he discovers his second job is a young girl under thirteen, he balks and turns on the people who hired him.  Detective Chief Inspector Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw, "Left Luggage") knew that same young girl as the victim of child prostitution and once he picks up Ledda's trail they engage in a game of cat and mouse while gunning for the same target.  The tricky case has an additional complication - Ledda is suffering the onslaught of Alzheimer's disease and Vincke finds himself grasping at "The Memory of a Killer."

Jef Geeraerts' twenty year-old novel, "The Alzheimer Case" (the film's literally translated and far catchier title), is one of a series of detective stories featuring DCI Vincke and his right hand man Freddy Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt, "Everybody's Famous!"), so it appears that director Erik Van Looy may have a series on his hands.  If this first adaptation (screenplay by Carl Joos) is any indication, that would be a good thing, as "The Memory of a Killer" is a dense story involving sex, corruption and politics that is populated with intriguing characters all well played by this classy ensemble.

The film has an intriguing, if creepy, opening.  After Ledda gets his orders at a Marseilles balcony restaurant (an overhead shot shows us him boning his fish), Van Looy switches the action to Antwerp, where a man we do not yet know is an undercover detective uneasily negotiates with a guy (Dirk Roofthooft) for his twelve year-old daughter Bieke (Laurien Van den Broeck), who sits drawing in the next room.  The man sits on the couch looking horrified as the young girl begins to kiss him, but then he's outed by his wire.  Cops descend and Bieke's father, who brandishes a weapon, is shot dead in front of her.  Then Ledda, with names and places written on his forearm, "Memento" style, arrives in the city and tries to keep his thoughts straight  (Van Looy conveys Ledda's confusion with quick flashes of images) as he carries out his job.  Ledda is momentarily thrown for a loop when an a.m. news broadcast reports the execution slaying of that 12 year-old girl, but Anja (Lords of Acid singer Deborah Ostrega), the hotel hooker he's spent the night with, confirms he never left her.  Shortly after, Ledda, having dispatched Bieke's murderer and disguised the corpse as himself, crosses paths with Vincke for the first time, but Vincke stays one step behind the contract killer who is hitting his way to the top - Minister of State Baron Henri Gustave de Haeck (Jo De Meyere).

One of the reasons "The Memory of a Killer" is so interesting throughout is that Vincke's challenge is not just to solve some crimes, but to unravel the motivational mystery that links them.  Van Looy frequently shows Vincke, Freddy and their underlings Linda de Leenheer (Hilde De Baerdemaeker) and Tom Coemans (Geert Van Rampelberg) mapping out the murders on a sheet of glass, trying to find the connective lines between a 12 year-old prostitute and the city planning manager, or the 12 year-old and the older, hotel hooker.  Then there's the body in the burned car, purportedly Angelo Ledda, but a trace on Ledda turns up more intrigue.  And this isn't just a cold, factual tapestry, but one rich with human interconnection and emotion. Vincke is intellectual where Freddy works more from the gut.  Vincke and Ledda are on different sides of the law, yet need each other to accomplish their goals.  And of course, what would a detective thriller be without contention between two arms of the law, in this case the uncooperative city gendarmes, whose head is looking out for the Baron.  There are several sexual connections simmering in the stew as well, with victim's widow Henriette Seynaeve (Lone van Roosendaal) offering info in a come-on to Detective Verstuyft, who's been keeping an eye on Coemans' attentions to Linda in the office.  Antwerp's mayor (Filip Peeter, "Everybody's Famous!") seems awfully interested in the well-being of Van Camp's widow.

Cinematographer Danny Elsen, who shows us Vincke's glass drawings from behind, reverses the shot, giving us Ledda's victim's point of view as the senior hit man stands outside, obscuring a window with soap, then drawing cross hairs on it (Vincke's mind is clear, but he doesn't understand what the information in front of him means, whereas Ledda must focus on his objectives as his memory clouds over).  Van Looy paces his film well, with Stephen Warbeck's ("Proof") clacketty score keeping rhythm, at least until Ledda is finally apprehended.  The hit man's hospitalization adds some new dimensions to the film's final goings, but it also loses the movie some of its charging momentum and is overly convoluted with a gimmicky, bookish puzzle.

The cast is uniformly excellent beginning with Decleir's old man who can still wage physical battle while being terrified of losing his mental ability.  He gives the character softer edges with the compassion he shows when visiting elder brother Paolo, already lost to the disease looming over him, or his defense of Anja's non-involvement in his crimes ('she was an angel').  Decleir has a way of extinguishing the light in his eyes, both to relive the childhood which connects him to these prostitutes and to signal his disease's advancement. Koen De Bouw is thoughtful and elegant, almost a straight man to Werner De Smedt's leather-jacketed Freddy.  De Smedt is the film's humor outlet, with his rants against BMWs and unorthodox means of questioning.  In her debut, Deborah Ostrega makes a lingering impression with little screen time.  As the ultimate villain, Jo De Meyere conveys the matter-of-fact expectations of the privileged, quite a contrast to Dirk Roofthooft's street smart brute at the other end of his spectrum.

"The Memory of a Killer" is a solid entry in the police detective genre, its foreign make giving it a bit of art house sheen.

B
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