Idiosyncratic killer’s quirks lost against flat story, dull performances
Director/Writer: Erik Van Looy
Cinematography: Danny Elsen
Starring: Jan Decleir, Koen De Bouw, Werner De Smedt
Studio info: Sony Pictures Classics, 120 minutes
Quirky criminals are nothing new in cinema. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs celebrated tough guys with soft names like Mr. Pink and Nice Guy Eddie, and the Coen brothers brought us a stone-faced murderer who preferred pancakes to steak in Fargo. But the hitman in Memory of a Killer has a serious idiosyncrasy: Alzheimer’s. Increasingly besieged by clarity-challenging episodes, Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir, a stout-chested actor with a Mount Rushmore visage) writes his deadly to-do list on his forearm and gulps pills to try to keep his mind on track. His troubles multiply when he journeys to Antwerp to whack two people. One is a high-ranking official (consider it done), and the other is a 12-year-old girl whom Ledda—haunted by his own childhood abuse—refuses to kill. When his boss puts someone else on the job, Ledda goes after him and everyone else involved. Soon, the bodies start piling up, political corruption is revealed and the earnest detective Eric Vincke (played with square-jawed stoicism by Koen De Bouw) and his amiable sidekick Freddy (the fluffy-haired, pillow-lipped Werner De Smedt, who looks like a young Chris Penn) are facing their toughest case yet.
Director Erik Van Looy, who has only two other features under his belt, tries to make Memory a kinetic contest of wills between a top-notch sleuth and a sympathetic killer—his Silence of the Ledda, if you will. And the movie does have some sparky scenes, like when the canny trophy wife of one of Ledda’s victims pours champagne on her chest and tells Freddy to “drink while it’s cold.” But the exchanges that really need to be sharp—the carrot-dangling phone calls Ledda places to Vincke—are drab and conventional. And so, for that matter, is Vincke. Van Looy takes us deep into Ledda’s murky mind, but he wants his detective to survive by sturdy dutifulness alone. As Hannibal Lecter might say: Quid pro quo, Van Looy?