Belgian director Erik Van Looy must be a big fan of U.S. thriller movies,
because he just made one. It may have a cast that is pretty much unknown in
America, but that's to the good. As for upbeat pacing, an attractive
production and a fine concept, it should play well to all audiences who enjoy
a police vs. hitman escapade well peppered with suspenseful action.
Since it doesn't have star power to solidify the bottom line, it may remain a
sleeper, soon to hit the bins. But, make no mistake, this is exemplary crime
stuff, complex anti-hero and all.
Officers Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) and Freddie Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt)
are the best detectives of the Antwerp police department. When they pull off
a sting operation on a pedofile father pimping his 12-year old daughter,
they're forced to kill him as he lunges at them with a knife. But, the case
doesn't rest there. The rescue of the daughter is just the opening interlude
in the exposing of political coverups and the murderous misuse of power.
The twist here is in the nature and physical condition of the hit man
handling the murder part of it, one Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir). When he's
approached with a new contract, he's reluctant to go out into the field
again. He's tired and, approaching 60, not feeling so up to it anymore. But
he does take it, kills an official and arouses Vincke and Verstuyft to the
realization that several different murders may have a common source since
bodies are showing up with the same gunshot pattern--the work of a
The second victim on Ledda's assignment brings out something about the
hitman's standards, a personal code that limits whom he'll kill. It's a
female and, tracking her, he calls out her name to make her turn toward him.
He's about to squeezee the trigger but freezes, reviled to find that she's
just a child. In fact, the very child that Vincke and Verstuyft rescued. He
won't have it. "You don't hurt children," he will later say.
But someone else does, and that guy doesn't have any moral compunctions about
a victim's age. In fact, he goes after Ledda when it becomes apparent to the
contractor of the killings that Mr. L not only couldn't do the job, but has
apparently become a turncoat. The trouble is that Ledda's sense of virtue
has been aroused and he wants to know who his real employer is. Pretty soon
his superb marksmanship and devious strategies leave behind a trail of dead
bad guys, each a little higher in the pecking order, until he gets to
the guy who hired him.
At the same time, he has become prime meat for our team of detectives,
especially when he stirs the pot by calling Vincke to tell him he's been
doing his work for him by getting rid of the people the police should be
catching. He hints at a plot that has corrupted the government and most of
its law enforcement officials. No cop likes to be lead by the nose by a
admitted killer but Vincke is clever enough (and not the usual stereotype) to
pursue the facts to aid his investigation even if it comes from his primary
target. Ledda assumes a bond has formed between him and Vincke, suggesting
they're on the same side, but Vincke rejects cameraderie with a renegade
vigilante, no matter how informative.
The drama unfolds as a chase-escape conflict between the men on opposite
sides of the law, but with an abundance of complexity in the common focus
against the well-protected demon provoking the murders. Holding the screen
in utter fascination is Ledda, a dominant presence of evil with a benign
dimension. Leclair plays him as a square jawed magneto who earns our
sympathies as he demolishes the really bad guys a body at a time. It's a
fascinating performance that keeps us bound with ropes of tough softness,
merciless yet compromising.
The notion of his encroaching Alzheimer disease is stretched to the limits of
credibility by writer Carl Joos, working from a novel by Jef Geeraerts, in
the way its dread symptoms of memory loss don't appear until they're
dramatically effective. But it's not too great a stretch to accept given
the great ride of action and character it provides. I'm ready to forgive
Not quite for director Looy's purposefully erratic jump cutting and hand held
camera, off-color, off-balance vignettes to suggest episodes of distorted
reality that Ledda sees, usually after moments of intensity. These
seem to be directorial reminders of the disease taking over the perfectly
well coordinated actions that the patient continually exhibits. Perhaps as
Alzheimer symptoms approach, some victims of it see their surroundings as
time-color warps, but the technique comes off as an overused contrivance.
Yet, something must be offered as a penalty for the aging killer failing to
take his pills. It's a nice dimension for a unique ace assassin.
Casting is fine throughout, with De Bouw effective as the pursuer on the good
side. His detective crew offers good support with team member Hilde De
Baerdemaeker providing a scene-stealing ingredient of knockout glamor. This
is one gorgeous cop.
My applause to all for a solid good time that any fan of classically stylish
killers (Max von Sydow comes to mind) should see. It was Belgium's
official selection as Best Foreign Language Film for 2004 and a strong
political statement about the corrupt misuse of power in its own right.
~~ The Filmiliar Cineaste