Beating Alzheimer's:
A Step Towards Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Diseases

. "The Memory of a Killer"
Formerly "The Alzheimer Case" (aka, "De Zaak Alzheimer")

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 professional.

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 these guys.

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.

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Deborah Ostrega and Jan Decleir
Calming his new friend's well-founded fears.

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