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French Cinema

À bout portant (Point Blank France 2010)

Samuel (Gilles Lelouche) reluctantly stitches the wound of Hugo (Roschdy Zem)

This is the second taut thriller from writer-director Fred Cavayé following Pour elle (Anything For Her, 2008). That was remade in Hollywood as The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe. I didn’t bother with the remake but the consensus seems to be that it was less interesting than the original.

This second film at first appears as if it will be more or less a repeat of the first – a happy and ‘respectable’ youngish couple suddenly thrown into a dangerous situation (with the woman heavily pregnant) which forces them into criminal action against their wishes. And indeed this is a short widescreen polar that has no pretensions beyond a desire to entertain as an action thriller. However, it soon reveals itself to be different from Cavayé’s earlier film in two respects. First, the male protagonist is given no time to think about the consequences of his actions or to plan how to rescue his wife – this time he is just thrown into the chase to save her almost immediately. Secondly, where the first film mostly involved outwitting the police, here the narrative is much more complex involving corruption and assassinations. In other words, this film is less the ‘one innocent man against the system’ and more ‘one innocent man caught up in extensive struggles between police and organised crime’ – i.e. much more like the traditional French polar.

The set-up is seemingly straightforward. Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is a trainee nurse about to take his exams when a man is brought in to his hospital ward. We already know that Hugo (Roschdy Zem) was wounded and running away from two men when he was involved in accident. Samuel then foils an attempt on Hugo’s life and considers himself a hero. But the next day his wife is kidnapped and he is told that he must get Hugo out of the hospital if he is ever to see his wife again. The rollercoaster begins.

Most of the film involves chases across Paris, especially in the metro (invoking memories of Luc Besson’s Subway). As I watched these very exciting sequences it occurred to me that I can’t really compare them to British crime thrillers since my expectations of most British crime films are so low that I avoid many of them. Perhaps it is just a case of the ‘the grass is greener . . .’) but the French crime films of recent years seem to make much better use of Paris and its environs than British films do of London. Add to this excellent performances by Lellouche (French actor du jour, I think) and the always dependable Zem, plus a sudden narrative twist part way through the chase and you have excellent entertainment that will wake you up and keep you on the edge of your seat. No Hollywood remakes please.

UK trailer:

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