Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Alzheimer Affair -- Memory of a Killer

I just watched De zaak Alzheimer, a 2003 Belgian movie given the English title “Memory of a Killer.” A more accurate translation of the Flemish title would be “The Alzheimer Affair.”

When I told my wife I was going to watch a movie about a hit-man who had Alzheimer’s disease. She observed, “surely it is a comedy.” I was more concerned that it might be a very heavy dose of pathos, but it was neither. The hit-man, Angelo Ledda, played by Jan Decleir, is experiencing the onset of Alzheimer’s and has medication to inhibit the progress. He tells his boss he doesn’t want to go on the current assignment, but his boss says “people like us don’t retire.” Gad, how often that concept is used. I wonder if there is any truth to it. Everyone gets old and retires; surely there must be retired hit-men floating around the world. It is absurd to think that they are all assassinated as soon as they get old or sick.

The same device was used in Blast of Silence. Frankie Bono wanted to quit but was told to complete his assignment which he did, but the mere mention of a desire to quite was enough for his boss to send out a team of hit-men to terminate him. Doesn’t sound very cost effective to me.

But Frankie Bono was a wimp compared to Angelo Ledda. When Ledda refuses to kill a 12 year old girl, he tells his employer that no one would take such an assignment, but someone does and then tries to kill Ledda. Ledda is extraordinarily effective for having Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t think someone who was having episodes where he was forgetting what he did could do all that Ledda did in the movie. He manages the social things well enough. He remembers who he is going to kill and how to keep the police from tracing his phone, but he doesn’t escape from situations as quickly as he used to before he got Alzheimer’s – we are to assume.

A couple of sequences I didn’t like. One of the policemen, Vader Cuypers, played by Dirk Roofthooft, is supposedly a crack shot. We see him showing off at the pistol range much as Mel Gibson did in Lethal Weapon. A few scenes later Cuypers is in a position to kill Ledda, we are invited to assume, but his boss, Eric Vincke (played by Koen De Bouw) won’t get out of the way. But I rather doubt that Cuypers accuracy would overcome the deflective capability of a modern-day automobile windshield. Presumably Cuypers was shooting a nine-millimeter pistol. He would almost need to be shooting full-metal jackets to pierce the windshield and hit something immediately behind it, but these are dangerous rounds when there are innocent bystanders about and I doubt that policemen would be allowed to used them.. Hollowpoints seem like a more reasonable round for the police to be using, and one of those would be deflected by a windshield to some extent. I might be wrong about this, but we are invited to assume that all Vinke needed to do was move out of the way and crack-shot Cuypers would without fail fire through the front windshield of a car and kill Ledda. If Cuypers had a high powered rifle, I would believe it, but he didn’t so pardon me for having some doubt.

Also, a key element in the movie is when Ledda is cleaning his handgun, presumably a Browning Hi-Power, before going off to kill the Baron. We are led to believe that Ledda has an Alzheimer’s episode and forgets to reinstall his firing pin. I once had a Browning Hi-Power and do not recall field-stripping it to that level. .You want to make sure the barrel is clean and the slide moves freely, but disassembling it to the point where you have the firing pin and firing pin spring in your hand doesn’t ring true. Of course if this was the only gun Ledda ever used and he used it over and over perhaps he would know how and want to field strip it to such a level, but don’t hit-men want to get rid of guns after they use them? We learn from watching Frankie Bono that they do. He used a gun once and threw it away and was shot a short time later for lack of having a gun – quite a difference from Ledda who carries his gun around in a metal suitcase.

But just as I think Bono shouldn’t have thrown his handgun away; so Ledda shouldn’t have taken his gun as far apart as he did – doesn’t make sense.

Then too there is a fitting moral and medical ending to The Alzheimer Affair. Ledda goes down after being shot enough to satisfy a Japanese Yakuza-movie director. Ledda needed to die because he had killed a couple of policemen, but also this was a humane way for someone with Alzheimer’s to kill himself: stand outside and wave his pistol about.

But he didn’t need to wave his pistol because the police were already ordered to kill him: there was corruption at a high level in Belgian Law Enforcement -- ???. In the European paradise???? Say it isn’t so.

I didn’t find the film-depiction of Alzheimer’s all that convincing (which is probably a good thing). Ledda stands still looking dazed while the camera does a kaleidoscopic visit to what he does without remembering as well as what he recently did. Ledda’s Alzheimer’s was in effect no different from the blackout periods of an alcoholic. When he sees that the 12-year-old girls he refused to kill was nevertheless killed. In a panic he demands that the prostitute he is with assures him that he spent all night in the bed with her. An alcoholic who has blackouts might have that experience, but would someone with Alzheimer’s? Maybe, but it doesn’t ring true.

But despite my objections, I enjoyed the movie, perhaps to some extent because the director didn’t dwell so much on Alzheimer symptoms that I ended up depressed.

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