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Originally published Friday, September 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

A killer's mind betrays him while his heart redeems him

Belgium's 2005 Oscar nominee for best foreign film, "The Memory of a Killer," is the kind of movie that Hollywood has nearly abandoned: a thriller...

Special to The Seattle Times

Belgium's 2005 Oscar nominee for best foreign film, "The Memory of a Killer," is the kind of movie that Hollywood has nearly abandoned: a thriller with brains. Only in this case, one of those brains isn't working so well.

The film's better European title (from the novel it's based on) is "The Alzheimer Case" and applies to both the assassin named Ledda (played by veteran Belgian star Jan Decleir), who's suffering through the early stages of that memory-robbing disease, and the investigation led by Antwerp detective Vincke (Erik De Bouw), who's discovered a connection between Ledda and a 12-year-old prostitute.

Ledda's no pedophile; he's got scruples despite his profession. He's been dispatched from Marseilles to his native Antwerp (source of memories still painfully retained) to eliminate the blackmailers of a government minister. When he discovers that one of his targets is a 12-year-old girl, he turns on his employers, goes underground and lures Vincke into a convoluted case that's gradually fading from his memory.

Movie review 3 stars

"The Memory of a Killer, with Jan Decleir, Koen De Bouw, Werner De Smedt and Jo De Meyere. Directed by Erik Van Looy, from a screenplay by Van Looy and Carl Joos, based on the novel "The Alzheimer Case" by Jef Geeraerts. In Flemish and French with English subtitles. 120 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexuality, and nudity. Metro.

Ledda's condition is more of a gimmick than a medically authentic plot point, but as Ledda tracks his quarry with hand-written reminders on his arm (echoes of "Memento"), Decleir is so commanding in the role that it's easy to dismiss the film's generic trappings.

As the case is complicated by official corruption and Ledda's less-than-total recall, director and co-writer Erik Van Looy capitalizes on recent scandals in Belgian government. But you don't have to be familiar with those headlines (or the popular novels of Jef Geeraerts) to appreciate Van Looy's colorful style and ominous atmosphere of threats from above. The success of Ledda's rebellion is never a given, lending an unpredictable edge to a standard police procedural.

Combine this cleverness with typical cop-thriller dialogue and bursts of jaded humor (as when one cop expresses his contempt for BMWs), and you've got a sharp, good-looking thriller ripe for a simplified Hollywood remake — which is already in the works. That film won't have Decleir, so it's almost guaranteed to be a comparative disappointment.

Jeff Shannon:

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