Verdict: Simple and satisfying
A complete absence of stylistic pretension gives this French thriller a deeply satisfying kick.
Debutant director and writer Cavaye, working from a story by Guillaume Lemans, is exploring classic Hollywood territory - how an ordinary man will react under extraordinary pressure when he has to save his family.
The Hollywood version of an ordinary Joe always seems to have superhuman skills when it comes to driving runaway lorries, hacking computers or using high-calibre weaponry. But this film's Julien is a plausible everyman who, as Cavaye has remarked, only tries what he tries because he doesn't know it's impossible.
Vincent Lindon, who must be France's busiest actor of the year, plays Julien, a schoolteacher whose fairytale family life with Lisa (Diane Kruger) and their young son Oscar is interrupted when police burst into their apartment and arrest her on suspicion of the murder of her boss. In short order she's convicted and all avenues of appeal are exhausted.
Cavaye makes the gutsy decision to reveal to us early on that Julien's belief in her innocence is well-founded. An ambiguous opening sequence, which has us hooked from the first frame, does introduce a tantalising uncertainty but for most of the running time the narrative thrust is straight ahead, even though it leavens the actions with quieter scenes of family emotion.
None of this is to say that the film is without subtlety; indeed it saves its most poignant surprise for the last few moments when one character shows us the true meaning of unconditional love. But it also earns all its thriller stripes as Lindon, brooding, craggy and magnificent, hatches a plan.
The film's most glaring flaw has to do with Lisa's conviction. When we see what happened, it's plain that any middling second-year law student could have ripped the case to shreds before it went to trial. But once things are under way there's too much else to worry about.
It's a tasty thriller in the tradition of the great policiers of the 50s.
It remains to be seen what the Hollywood remake, by Paul (Crash) Haggis and starring (who else?) Russell Crowe will make of it.
My advice: catch the original.
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Diane Kruger
Director: Fred Cavaye
Running time: 96 mins
Rating: R16 (contains violence) In French with English subtitles