It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The Memory of a Killer" contains the elements of a typical police procedural, transcended and brought to a sad perfection by the performance of a veteran Belgian actor named Jan Decleir. Study the photograph accompanying this review and you will see a face strong and worn, suggesting long and hard experience. In his appearance Decleir reminds me of Anthony Quinn, and in his behavior of Jean Gabin -- the Gabin of the late gangster films, playing men who are weary of crime and yet live by an underworld code.
Decleir plays Angelo Ledda, a professional hit man. He is assigned to go to Antwerp in Belgium and kill a man. He protests that he is too old -- he's retired. "Men like us never retire," his boss says. Angelo tells the waitress to bring fries with his steak, and she reminds him that he has already ordered them. Here is the first hint: He is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. In Belgium, he visits his senile older brother in an institution. An orderly describes the onset of his brother's symptoms. "I know how it begins," Angelo says firmly.
He is a contract killer who knows he is losing his mind. Like the hero of "Memento," he writes notes to himself on his arm. But "The Memory of a Killer" is not another version of "Memento"; it is a full-bore traditional policier, beginning with a plainclothes cop busting a man who is selling his 11-year-old daughter, and continuing with a series of killings as powerful men try to conceal their connection to child prostitution. The first man Angelo kills is a prosecutor who will not drop the investigation. His second assignment ... I'll leave that for you to discover. It is an assignment he will not accept. "No one will," he tells the man who wants him to do the job. Angelo is a killer but he is also a man unwilling to cross a certain line. In her review of this movie, Manohla Dargis has a lovely observation: "Here is a thriller that asks, Are men essentially good or do they just sometimes forget to be bad?" Angelo is forgetting to be anything.
The police/criminal side of the plot could be from a novel by Ed McBain or Nicholas Freeling; the psychological side could be from Georges Simenon. The movie is based on the novel The Alzheimer Case by the Belgian writer Jef Geeraerts, which unthreads a plot involving buried perversion and aristocratic hauteur, contrasting it with the declining years of this hard-working professional man, the contract killer.