Here’s a nifty idea: An aging hitman tries to continue his life as an assassin even while his mind disintegrates Alzheimer’s. Maybe he realizes he doesn’t have much time left and decides to right a few wrongs before he dies. Maybe it all takes place in Belgium. (Why not?)
That’s “The Memory of a Killer,” a Belgian film as energetic and clever as many a Hollywood production — though ultimately as clichÃ©d as one, too. You think these foreigns jobs are going to be refined and unusual, but not always. Sometimes they’re just good ol’ American bombast, repackaged in a foreign language.
The year is 1995 (for no discernible reason), the place is Antwerp. The assassin is Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir), a Frenchman who traipses through Europe dispatching victims when called upon to do so. He is beginning to suffer the ravages of age, though, and he guesses at what his fate will be: His brother Paolo (Roland De Jonghe) is already in a nursing home and already doesn’t recognize him.
He’s given two assignments in Antwerp. One is Bob Van Camp (Lucas van den Eijnde), a bigwig in local politics. The other is a 13-year-old girl name Bieke (Laurien Van den Broeck), who until recently was an unwilling child prostitute under the direction of her sleazy father (Dirk Roofthooft). Angelo has no problem killing the politician. But he draws the line at shooting a young girl. Would the Angelo of yesteryear have had such qualms, or is this the old man’s conscience springing to life, a budding cognizance of his own mortality?
Whatever it is, his superiors aren’t happy with it, and soon Angelo himself becomes a target. This necessitates a few self-defense killings, which, combined with the other murders that comprise the overall mission (Angelo’s two assignments were only the beginning), means the local police suddenly have a lot of dead bodies on their hands.
Those lawmen are the noble Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) and his goofball partner Freddy (Werner De Smedt), a pair of detectives who guide the film through its police-procedural elements, which are flashy but no more substantive than a typical episode of “CSI.” Angelo, seeking justice against his former associates and employers, even offers subtle help to the cops — from a distance, of course, since they probably have a few awkward questions for him, too.
The director, Erik Van Looy, may well be the best Belgian filmmaker currently working (not that there is a lot of competition), enthusiastically and confidently guiding this pulpy story through its twists and turns. Standard though it all may be, it is nonetheless executed with crafty precision. In the inevitable Hollywood remake, I want Michael Caine as Angelo.
B (2 hrs.; in Dutch and French with subtitles; )