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dir Guillaume Canet
scr Guillaume Canet, James Gray
prd Guillaume Canet, Alain Attal, John Lesher, Hugo Selignac, Christopher Woodrow
with Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, James Caan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Lili Taylor, Noah Emmerich, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia, Griffin Dunne
release US 21.Mar.14, UK 15.Aug.14
Brothers in arms: Crudup and Owen
CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
A remake of:
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
A remake of the 2008 French thriller Rivals (which starred filmmaker Canet), this American version effectively recreates the tone of a 1970s thriller, although it never generates the electricity. The film plays on moral dilemmas, but the slow, internalised approach oddly never gets under the characters' skin.
In 1974 Brooklyn, police detective Frank (Crudup) meets his brother Chris (Owen) after a 10-year prison term then helps him find work and a place to live a clean life. But going straight is difficult with everything stacked against him, and Chris reconnects with his old partner in crime Mike (Lombardozzi) while trying to help his junkie-prostitute ex-wife (Cotillard) and pursue a new relationship with Natalie (Kunis). Meanwhile, Frank is further compromising himself by reigniting his romance with Vanessa (Sandana), whose boyfriend (Schoenaerts) he has just put behind bars.
Canet shoots in the tightly wound style of gritty 1970s cop dramas, with a strong attention to period detail and an emphasis on people rather than action. But the characters feel strangely simplistic, bluntly approaching every decision with very little complexity, despite the moral implications of everything that happens. So each turn of events feels inevitable rather than surprising or tragic. It's as if these are losers, so their lives simply must get worse.
The problem with this tone is that it doesn't give the actors much to do. Crudup has the most interesting role, mainly because Frank is the person with the most to lose. But the tension between his job and his brother is never really explored in the script, so his relationships feel superficial. Frank's strongest connection is with Chris, and Owen is terrific as the charming rogue who wants to do the right thing but probably won't. And Caan gives a nicely offhanded turn as their father.
On the other hand, the female roles are sketchy at best, despite feisty performances from Cotillard, Saldana and Taylor (as Chris and Frank's sister). There's also a problem that Schoenaerts is by far the most charismatic actor on-screen, and yet is underused by Canet to drive the climactic sequence of events. There are some earthy car chases and rough violence along the way, all nicely shot and played, but without any proper moral complexity the film remains wilfully aloof. It looks great, but never means anything.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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