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Koen De Bouw and Jan Decleir in The Memory of a Killer (2003)Review

The Memory of a Killer (Action, Crime, Drama) [Based on Novel] (2003)


Director: Erik Van Looy

Writer: Erik Van Looy, Carl Joos, Jef Geeraerts (Based on Novel by)

Stars: Jan Decleir, Koen De Bouw, Werner De Smedt, Patrick Descamps


Hired to complete a set of contract killings, retiring hitman Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) refuses his orders when he discovers the second target is a young girl. While detectives Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt) and Vincke (Koen de Bouw) are already on his trail.

Based on a Belgian novel by Jef Geeraerts, ‘’The Memory of a Killer’’ seems like a traditional crime drama with an unusual twist of Alzheimer’s. It serves as Van Looy’s third Belgian feature, being produced by MMG Film & TV Production, PVPictures, TROS Bridge Rights and TV1 while distributed by Kinepolis Film Distribution and ARP Sélection.

As Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) travels to Antwerp for a series of hits, detectives Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt) and Vincke (Koen de Bouw) rescue a young girl from being prostituted by her father. After Ledda’s first kill, his former employers frame Ledda after denying their orders for the follow-up contract, having sent someone else in his stead.

The Alzheimer CaseWithin a wide selection of crime films released each consecutive year, the vast majority feel standardised, not featuring much creativity. Not often do these projects attain the intangible qualities of a ‘’Memento’’ or a ‘’Se7en’’. Van Looy comes close, however, with his novel interpretation introducing an element that captivates just enough. Decleir’s Ledda is unlike the cold-blooded Hannibal Lecter and comes across as a stoic and morally decent hitman in some sense comparable to Léon from ‘’Léon: The Professional’’.

The Memory of a Killer (2003) - IMDbNot the most mysterious or ambivalent crime drama, the angle presented in this Belgian feature allows the viewer to favour the coppers while also painting Ledda more neutrally than you’d expect. It’s such a powerful performance, seeing the wear and tear in Ledda, hinting at symptoms of Alzheimer’s from the initial scenes forward. While I’d have to take a deep dive into Belgian cinema, I’m reasonably sure ‘’The Memory of a Killer’’ stands as a prime example within the country’s cinematic catalogue.

This review was written in response to watching 2022’s American remake ‘’Memory’’ featuring Liam Neeson as an adaptation of Decleir’s character. Noticeable within the classic iteration are signs of aging, the female agent is just about non-existent, European films, and certainly, in the era, this was filmed, feature more nudity, and overall performances are approached differently. I’d advise reading both reviews to get the whole picture and deciding which film suits you.

Watching ‘’The Memory of a Killer’’ decades after its release shows signs of ageing compared to the remake in Neeson’s ‘’Memory’’. What is left retains a certain quality, though, and enough uniqueness to stand the test of time, but will it be memorable enough.

There’s a uniqueness and quality that stands the test of time, although I’d question if it’s as memorable as previously named films of the time; I’d have to say it isn’t.


Not quite memorable enough in the long run.