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Review: The Memory of a Killer

The film is little more than a compendium of Hollywood crime-film citations held together by that hoariest of cat-and-mouse clichés.

The Memory of a Killer
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

From its Heat-inspired opening shot of a train emerging from the nocturnal blue-black fog, to its Memento-ish Alzheimer’s-inflicted assassin writing key information on his forearm, to the gloomy, Seven-esque scenes lit only by flashlights, Erik Van Looy’s The Memory of a Killer (known in its native Belgium as The Alzheimer Case, and based upon Jef Geeraerts’s novel) is little more than a compendium of Hollywood crime-film citations held together by that hoariest of cat-and-mouse clichés: the spiritual and philosophical similarity between cop and crook.

Contract killer Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) is hired to commit two murders but balks at his second assignment after learning that his victim is a 12-year-old girl. However, once the girl turns up dead anyway, the hitman—who suffered paternal violence as a kid, and thus holds firm to the rule that “you don’t touch children”—sets off on a revenge mission against the former employers who would perform such a dastardly deed. Meantime, world-weary Antwerp detective Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw), having earlier saved the same 12-year-old whore from a prostitution ring run by her degenerate daddy, attempts to piece together a conspiracy involving the adolescent’s death, Ledda’s crimes, and the upper echelons of the law enforcement and government establishment.

Looy reductively mimics Heat’s police officer-perpetrator dynamic and slow-motion cinematography while fruitlessly attempting to ignite psychological or political intensity via Ledda’s dwindling mental condition (visualized by jagged, fluorescent-green flashbacks) and an intricate sex-and-blackmail narrative that goes nowhere. Wrapped up in a protracted police procedural plot that subscribes to the belief that one false denouement after another is a template for tension, this long-winded thriller fails to exploit the suspenseful possibilities of its protagonist’s cognitive disorientation (except for a contrived second-act instance of crucial forgetfulness) while simultaneously serving up a cursory (some might say semi-exploitative) treatment of the underage sex trade.

Danny Elsen’s camerawork has an icy (if unoriginal) sheen that contributes to the film’s professional exterior, and Decleir and De Bouw each give their characters an aura of emotional remoteness that helps counteract the script’s expository forthrightness. Yet aside from its pseudo-noir depiction of Belgium as a place populated by felons, formerly abused kids and sexually rapacious child molesters—as well as its practical advice that the best way to tamper with a car is to pee in the door’s keyhole (thereby creating rust)—there isn’t a single original thought recognizable in the dim bulb The Memory of a Killer’s empty, imitative head.

Cast: Koen De Bouw, Jan Decleir, Werner De Smedt, Jo De Meyere, Hilde De Baerdemaeker, Geert Van Rampelberg, Gene Bervoets, Patrick Descamps, Vic de Wachter, Deborah Ostrega Director: Erik Van Looy Screenwriter: Carl Joos, Erik Van Looy Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 120 min Rating: R Year: 2004 Buy: Video

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