A throwback to the gritty euro-thrillers of thirty years ago, French cop drama Rivals reunites Guillaume Canet and François Cluzet from last year’s gripping Tell No One to tell the story of two brothers, one a cop, the other a robber, circling one another in a brilliantly realised 1970s Lyon.

Loosely based on a true story, Canet plays Francois, an ambitious young detective charged with capturing a gang of dangerous thieves who have committed a series of bank heists around the city. Struggling with a bad reputation among his peers and engaged in a foolhardy relationship with the wife of a convict, Francois’ already complicated life gets even more uncomfortable when fun-loving Gabriel is released from prison and returns home, pledging to go straight.

At his elderly father’s request, Francois gives his older brother a room in his house and promises to support him while he gets a job. But packing shelves in a supermarket was never going to satisfy the fast-living Gabriel, and he is soon back in touch with his old lowlife friends, looking for a big payday.

Writer and director Maillot hews closely to the crime conventions laid down by the likes of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon but cannot inject his own characters with the same sense of urgent cool. His flics and voleurs are outlined in broad strokes, that the actors sometimes struggle to fill in, making them recognisable as archetypes but less interesting as personalities. The drama simmers for long stretches while the pair circle one another, then suddenly bursts to life in a series of conflicts that come, almost without fail, from unheeding blunders. As a result, over time the film loses focus, undermining the carefully constructed air of retro chic, further evoked by a nostalgic score from Stépan Oliva.

For all that, Rivals doesn’t descend into a standardised action picture, even if Maillot never shies away from the tough stuff, throwing his camera around in a restless scrum, effectively capturing the reality of violence in a series of deft, taut sequences.

The performances are excellent, with Cluzet shading the battle between the brothers in part because his Gabriel is a teeming mass of contradictions, brutal and tender, determined to go straight but easily tempted to return to the life he knows best. The rather flat, one-directional story and a rushed ending preclude Rivals from earning a higher recommendation but this is still a decent film, lacking the touch of narrative finesse that the meticulous production design deserves, but essentially sound.

1 comment:

Tap said...

Good review; put words to my sentiments. The movie reminded me a little of an indian (hindi-movie) classic, Deewar, from 1975 - at least in concept.