A Striking Thriller

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Friday, September 23, 2005

The premise of "The Memory of a Killer," a Belgian production, is one of existential heartbreak: An aging hit man suffering the onset of Alzheimer's disease has an urgent moral score to settle before a dark haze engulfs him forever.

Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) agrees to perform one last job, a double murder. He takes care of the first, a senior government official. But when he learns about the second -- an abused preteen girl, formerly part of a prostitution ring -- the old man turns into avenging Angelo. Already writing on his arm to remember things, reminiscent of Guy Pearce's desperation in "Memento," Angelo grapples with his dwindling recall while trying to find, and kill, those who ordered the girl's death. He also has to stay a step ahead of two Belgian detectives (Koen De Bouw and Werner De Smedt) determined to stop his vigilante agenda.

Erik Van Looy's movie, previously called "The Alzheimer Case" (adapted from writer Jef Geeraerts's novel of the same name), becomes convoluted and creaky in its final sections, but we always have Angelo to pull us through these straits: Belgian actor Decleir's tough-guy vulnerability, which brings to mind such classic screen heavies as Lee J. Cobb and Richard Widmark, gives an otherwise standard police procedural extraordinary grace and power. By the end of the movie, you'll come close to wanting this contract killer reading books to your children.

-- Desson Thomson


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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