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Mea Culpa
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by Jay Seaver

"Unapologetically good action."
4 stars

A couple years ago, French director Fred Cavayé garnered some attention from international action-movie fans with "Point Blank", a fast-paced thriller that didn't break any new ground but did everything better than expected, adding up to a great little movie. His follow-up "Mea Culpa" is along the same lines - basic story, impressive action, a satisfying hour and a half.

Simon (Vincent Lindon) and Frank (Gilles Lellouche) were once partners on the police force, before a drink driving accident landed Simon in jail; now he works as a security guard and lets his ex-wife Alice (Nadine Labaki) and son Théo (Max Baissette de Malglaive) down. Frank, meanwhile, is investigating a series of execution-style underworld killings, the type that make sure to leave no witnesses - at least, not until Théo stumbles upon one.

You can guess where it goes from there without much trouble - the gangsters are going to try and eliminate the lose end, Simon and Frank aren't going to let the niceties of proper police procedure slow them down, and violence will ensue. Cavayé and co-writer Guillaume Lemans spend a bit of time on diversions early on - one of Simon's co-workers cruelly hazing the new hire, just enough background detail to give the audience a sense of the two leads - but they keep it very basic otherwise. It's the sort of movie where only one of a half-dozen adversaries is referred to by name, and I had to find a picture to be sure which one it was.

Simple. But there's something to be said for getting out of the way and just showing some fine action, and Cavayé does put together some excellent set pieces. Take the first bit, where a rocking car in a parking structure initially looks like someone getting busy in the back seat until the camera points inside and the audience gets a look at exactly how a melee in a closed space should be shot. It's quiet for a bit after that, but as soon as the kid witnesses a murder, one's eyes perk up, because the moment feels like an inciting incident and the movie just kicks into gear after that with confrontations that are both staged impeccably - look at how a scene that starts as a shootout near a police station evolves into a chase that lets the audience feel people getting boxed in - and have a real sense of danger. Cavayé may just be vicious enough to kill the kid, and if innocent bystanders tend to vanish after someone opens fire in a crowded room, it's not until after the filmmakers have made a point about how dangerous being around this situation is. It's thrilling action that doesn't mess around.

The folks executing it do all right between the punching and shooting and showing that going through a window hurts like hell. Vincent Lindon is a guy who probably wouldn't get this role in America, looking a bit weathered and worn down, not really giving the impression of having been a tough guy until that threat to his son throws him into a frightening rage. Gilles Lellouche seems the more conventional leading man, ruggedly handsome and giving off a devil-may-care vibe that lets him be both the loose cannon and the more strait-laced cop; he's fun to watch without making things too light and tightening things up when more somber moments are called for.

It's basic action-movie stuff done better than usual, packed into a crisp hour and a half that has the feeling of real danger once it gets going. Fred Cavayé doesn't mess around, and even if this is a somewhat standard action-movie tale, it's done very well. It's a shame that its release is so small here in the US, because the French make surprisingly intense genre movies, and Cavayé's are some of the more impressive.

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originally posted: 11/22/14 07:28:34
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  14-Nov-2014 (R)



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