With corrupt politicians, cops who routinely break the rules and a subplot about child prostitution, Memory of a Killer is the kind of hard-boiled crime drama that exudes a sweaty, existential dread. The story, stripped down, is unexceptional, but its delivered with enough style and conviction to make it a very entertaining potboiler.
The centerpiece of this slick and sleazy Belgian thriller is Jan Decleirs performance as Angelo Ledda, a hit man experiencing the early stages of Alzheimers. Ledda looks like bad news; he has the kind of impassive, lived-in gangster face of a man whos unmoved by any threat imaginable, someone who will get his way by any means possible. Hes also entering the uncharted waters of vulnerability as he struggles with his disease, which gives his character added depth and affords Decleir the opportunity to paint an unusually subtle portrait of a classic tough guy.
Memory, adapted by director Erik van Looy from a popular Belgian crime novel, The Alzheimer Case, has the kind of plot thats parceled out in drabs and dribbles. Ledda has been hired to bump off various shady characters for reasons that only slowly become clear. Despite having to write down vital bits of information (like his hotel room number) on his arm in case his memory fails, he dispatches his first contract with cold-blooded efficiency. But when he learns that his second target is a 12-year-old girl, he balks and turns on his employers. The implication is that Ledda has a core of decency, or at least a line of evil that he will not cross.
Soon Ledda is stringing along both the cops and the crooks, trying to live up to his personal sense of justice before his mind goes completely. The film has its share of action-thriller clichés (Ledda is at times almost superhuman in his ability to get out of tight situations) and unlikely contrivances, but Decleirs pitch-perfect performance makes it worth seeing memorable, in fact.
In Flemish and French with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237. 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1; 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].