Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“The Memory of a Killer” (+)
This film is based on a novel by Jef Geeraerts entitled, “Memory,” and the original title of the film was “The Alzheimer Case.” Both titles are comments on whether an assassin, Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir), suffering from early Alzheimer’s, will remember where he placed the evidence needed to convict a powerful politician connected to a pedophile case.

The story line brings to mind a case that enthralled the Belgium public for decades involving a number of powerful citizens in and out of government involved in child prostitution. Corruption was rampant in the handling of that real case.

Here, the son of a duke in Antwerp is involved with a 12-year-old girl offered for sex by her father. Ledda is hired to murder two witnesses. When he realizes that one of his targets is the young girl, he is appalled by his task and decides instead to kill his employer and others associated with the employer. Two police officers are involved in the case: the Chief Inspector Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) and his partner, Freddy Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt). Their relationship is reminiscent of the two cops in the television series “Inspector Morse” starring John Thaw, now deceased.

The plot includes an interesting underground hideaway used by the assassin, battles between the city and state police forces, and a conspiracy to engage in a cover-up to protect the powerful elite from criminal indictment and prosecution. Several flashbacks and occasional surreal scenes were disconcerting but also added to the suspense and mystery.

This is an unusual film noir. The acting is terrific on the part of all the characters, especially that of Jan Decleir, and the script is exceptionally strong in its subject matter and impact. Some reviewers compared the film to a recent American sleeper, “Memento,” which was also excellent. The protagonist in that film lost his memory and wrote addresses and telephone numbers on his body, as does Ledda. All in all, “The Memory of a Killer” is an exciting ride.

“The Constant Gardener” (-)
I did not read John Le Carre’s book on which this film is based, but I must assume that it is a better-told story than this movie which is full of holes. Near the end of the film a dialogue takes place between two of the principal characters intended to lay out the story line and answer some questions. The device fails.

Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is a British diplomat. While delivering a lecture, he meets Tess (Rachel Weisz) who is in the audience. She is an activist who questions him about British activities, particularly the testing of a new AIDS drug on the guinea pig citizens in Kenya.

The film is a polemic against President George W. Bush and the big drug companies engaged in finding ways to test new drugs. It wouldn’t surprise me if drug companies were abusing the citizens of Kenya, but is it true? If yes, a crawl at the end of the film should provide factual information. If not, then the movie is hurling a very unfair and explosive charge.

The story involves several subplots. Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy), a villain providing cover for the drug companies, is unwilling to examine Tess’s allegations. A possible love affair, not well done, between Tess and Sandy (Danny Huston) is intended as a diversion. Of major interest is Tess’s death which occurs early on in the flick. Justin spends the balance of the film trying to determine whether her death was accidental or not. A scene of Arab militiamen on horseback seeking to kill and enslave blacks also takes place, reminiscent of Darfur, Sudan.

I did not think Fiennes’ performance was particularly exhilarating, as commented on by some critics, nor were any of the other performances particularly outstanding. Most of the reviews that I read of this film were complimentary, but I thought it was an unintended farce with an often ridiculous script. At one point when Justin is running after a plane seeking to take off, in my mind I heard him shouting “taxi, taxi.” Use your valuable time to do something next week other than seeing this film.

- Ed Koch

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