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Sony Picture Classics presents
Anja: I can hear your blood flowing.
DVD ReviewThis 2003 Dutch crime thriller—set in Antwerp—from director Erik Van Looy has had its original title (De Zaak Alzheimer, or The Alzheimer Case) slightly cobbled for its R1 release, saddled with the less direct The Memory of a Killer. This film version of Jef Geeraerts' novel has as its lead a gruff, retirement-aged hitman (the backcover refers to him as a "veteran assassin") who is in the early stages of the memory-robbing ravage of Alzheimer's, and the plot is essentially a smart variation on the one-final-attempt-to-right-a-wrong storyline. But that's not to say this is a typical linear film, and while it isn't necessarily in Christopher Nolan territory when it comes to disjointed narratives, the way the threads of the story and the characters are revealed are less to the point than most Hollywood productions that like to spoon feed simplistic plot elements in neat, orderly bites.
Jan Decleir is Angelo Ledda, the skilled hired gun silently battling his accelerated memory loss by continually popping medication, and who has to resort to writing even the simplest things on his arm in order to help him remember. Decleir gives the Ledda character a powerful presence, one that waffles for viewers between empathy and fear in equal doses, and when he backs out of an ordered hit on a sexually abused 13-year-old girl (Laurien Van den Broeck), he sets in a motion a series of events that forces him to find strange allies as he tries to take down the powerful, well-connected villain. These allies include the honest detective (Koen De Bouw) and his rebel partner (Werner De Smedt), as well as a bleached-blonde prostitute (Deborah Ostrega), but Van Looy keeps these characters—in addition to Decleir's—just to the left of what we've seen before, so their actions don't seem particularly stereotypical.
There's no mistaking Decleir is a cold-blooded killer—Van Looy shows him carrying out executions with a clinical efficiency—but like Jean Reno's Léon, his "no kids" rule changes the playing field permanently. Decleir's Angelo Ledda is perhaps not as purely anti-hero sympathetic as Léon, and it's the early onset of Alzheimer's that has begun to cripple him. That disease allows the human side of the assassin to show through, and Decleir reveals a hidden facet that isn't often shown in characters such as his. Disease or not, the drive for revenge serves as the connective link between Ledda and Koen De Bouw's Detective Chief Inspector. Both want justice, though in different degrees, and the two reluctantly work in tandem, albeit if only by phone.
With the exception of the way some parts of the story are spelled out—it's not rocket science, but is less direct than a standard issue domestic genre title—The Memory of a Killer certainly looks the part of a stylishly grim crime thriller. There are fights, killings, explosions, and even a little hot coffee to the face, while Van Looy uses odd camera angles and the distinctive Belgian architecture to keep things visually interesting. To show what Ledda sees in his head, as his memory vanishes, the sporadic flashes of his past are treated as frenetic green rushes of images and sound. These bursts are edgy and sad, and in one scene he awakens from one of these flashes and is frantically unable to recognize Deborah Ostrega's prostitute Anja lying beside him. Here we can silently root for Ledda to overcome his illness, though of course we know he is dangerously flawed—being a hitman and all—but as an actor, Decleir makes us care for him.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a first-rate effort from Sony, a sharp, clean offering free of compression issues or edge enhancement, and one full of solid blacks. The color correction done to give the film that slightly blue metallic look doesn't get fudged in the transfer, and things like fleshtones have a consistent pallor to them throughout, no matter what the lighting conditions. I've seen other titles with a similar look lose something in the translation to disc, and thankfully this one comes out in great shape.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Good news for purists: the film's original Dutch language track (though it is hardly the only language spoken here) is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. This is an active audio mix, an aggressive presentation that delivers some very, very loud gun battles that move in all directions, as well as treating the score of Stephen Warbeck (Mystery Men, Quills) with finesse. The audio track is easily on par with any big-budget Hollywood action film, something that often gets short-changed when foreign titles get released in the States.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
13 Other Trailer(s) featuring Capote, Cache, The White Countess, Junebug, Thumbsucker, Saraband, 2046, November, The Passenger, Breakfast on Pluto, The Tenants, Where The Truth Lies, Dying Gaul
Extras Review: Nothing terribly memorable as far as supplements are concerned, just a pair of subtitled shorts. A Night to Remember: The Premiere of The Memory of a Killer (05m:26s) shows anamorphic widescreen footage of the October 2003 opening, with the cast and crew answering questions and generally looking a bit nervous and excited. Behind the Scenes of The Memory of a Killer (21m:13s) is long collection of assorted footage, from table reads to shooting range practice to rehearsals, presented in a roughly sequential order by date. The piece uses split screen at times, and is also presented in anamorphic widescreen.
In addition, there's a batch of 13 assorted trailers, including Capote and Michael Haneke's Cache. The disc is cut into a slim 12 chapters, with optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsCall this, ironically, something of a thinking man's crime thriller about an aging hitman with the early stages of Alzheimer's. Don't worry about an absence of action though, because there's plenty of violence as he tries to right a moral wrong, but the heart of the story is the silent and stoic inner struggle of Jan Decleir in the lead role.
That, plus the solid image and audio transfers boost this to Highly Recommended status.
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