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Love Crime
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Patrons Horribles"
5 stars

The trouble with too many thrillers these days is that they are made by people who no longer seem to know how to properly thrill audiences anymore by creating a smart and well-crafted story that generates actual suspense without repeatedly resorting to shameless shock effects and nonsensical plot developments. Luckily for them, most contemporary audiences have apparently lost the willingness to demand such things and are perfectly satisfied with the kind of mindless tripe that has all the dramatic heft and impact of a jack-in-the-box going off for two straight hours than anything that demonstrates any degree of elegance, wit or style. Such people will most likely want to give the new French thriller "Love Crime" a wide berth because it has no interest in pandering to the lowest common denominator with a cheap, ugly and stupid piece of brainless junk. Instead, this is a smart, sexy and exceedingly clever tale that has the confidence to tease viewers with wit, style and intelligence instead of bludgeoning them with shock tactics.

Set within the halls of a multi-national corporate that seems to specialize in manufacturing distrust and corruption more than anything else, the film stars Kristin Scott Thomas as Christine, the head of the company's Paris branch and Ludivine Sagnier as her right-hand woman Isabelle. Although ostensibly friendly and supportive to Isabelle on the surface, almost too friendly at one point, the ruthless Christine yearns to be promoted to head the New York branch and has absolutely no compunction about appropriating Isabelle's brilliant ideas and passing them off as her own. Oddly enough, Isabelle doesn't seem too disturbed by her boss's behavior on the surface--she seems content to let it pass as the price of getting ahead in the world and perhaps feels that she is evening things up by sleeping with Christie's husband on the sly, not realizing that Isabelle is perfectly aware of the affair is perfectly willing to accept that as part of the price of doing business. After a while, Christine's cruelties towards Isabelle begin to escalate and after stealing yet another big idea from her protege and then publicly humiliating her at a fancy party in order to twist the knife in even further, it seems as though Isabelle has finally hit the breaking point. It is at this particular point that something--I dare not even hint at what it could be--occurs in a flash that throws everything up for grabs.

When this moment occurred, I was immediately fascinated for two reasons. For one, it is staged by director Alain Corneau (the final film from the recently deceased filmmaker) in such an impeccably elegant and compelling manner that when the big moment occurred, I was actually blindsided what happened instead of seeing it coming a mile away as is usually the case with most suspense films of later. For another, what occurs is so unusual and unexpected, especially considering where and when it happens in the course of the narrative, that I found myself wondering exactly how the hell Corneau and co-writer Nathalie Corner expected to be able to write themselves out of the corner that they had seemingly painted themselves into without resorting to faulty plotting or outright cheating to resolve things. Happily, they manage to accomplish just that and while I wouldn't dream of hinting at what is in store, I will say that they pull it off in a manner that respects the viewer's intelligence without resorting to any underhanded tricks or outright nonsense to keep juggling all their narrative balls without letting a single one come close to dropping.

Aiding mightily in this accomplishment are their two co-stars, both of whom couldn't be better. Kristin Scott Thomas is a blast as the nastiest boss imaginable, the kind who manages to make all of her depravations even worse by cooly explaining them right to the face of her victim in such a calm and logical manner that even those that she has wronged are tempted to see things her way after all. Even better, Ludivine Sagnier turns in what may be the best performance of a career that has already seen more than a few highlights as the protege whose placid exterior masks a steely-eyed determination that would put even her formidable superior to shame. Her startling ability to switch on a dime from acting reserved to sexy to wide-eyed and innocent at any given moment has never had a better showcase than it does here and as a result, she makes Isabelle into a character that audiences can be both sympathetic to and slightly terrified of in equal measure.

To be fair, I suppose there are a few points in "Love Crime" that veer perilously close to the realm of the unbelievable but it is to Corneau's credit as a skilled director that he is able to maintain a veneer of plausibility throughout the proceedings--pickier viewers may have a few logical quibbles later on once they have had time to think things over for a while but after something so entertaining, only a churl would dwell upon them for too long. Like the classic thrillers of Brian De Palma (who was once slated to direct an English-language remake of the film), this is a sexy, stylish and enormously entertaining thriller made with the kind of intelligence and skill that used to be a lot more common in films than it is today. Alas, since it is a French film and since there is still a general resistance in this country to subtitled films, it is likely that unless you live in or near a major city or a town with a thriving art-house scene, you may not get a chance to see it in a theater. Happily, it is currently appearing on pay-per-view on various cable systems and while watching it on television is not the same as seeing it on the big screen with a large and attentive audience relishing all of its twists and turns, it will nevertheless give you a chance to see one of the best thrillers to come along in a while for yourself.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=21294&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/23/11 13:06:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Chicago French Film Festival For more in the 2011 Chicago French Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  02-Sep-2011
  DVD: 27-Dec-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Sep-2011
  DVD: 27-Dec-2011




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