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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 03.05.10] France movie review action drama crime

Year: 2009
Directors: Richard Berry
Writers: Richard Berry & Mathieu Delaporte & Franz-Olivier Giesbert (novel) & Alexandre de La Patellière (adaptation)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: The Crystal Ferret
Rating: 3.25 out of 10

[Editor's note: We've been sitting on this for a couple of months but were asked to hold off on posting it, but now, without further ado, here it is.]

After a long, brutal and successful career as a mafia tycoon in Marseilles, Charly Matteï has finally gone into retirement. For some years, he has lived a quiet life devoted to his mother, wife and two young children. Then, one morning, he is left for dead in a subterranean parking near the old port with 22 bullets in his body. Somehow he survives, gets his nickname of “l’Immortel” out of it, and goes looking for revenge.

*Dramatic chords*

There. That’s the pitch. This is Richard Berry latest movie, starring Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Jean Pierre Daroussin and Marina Foïs. It’s adapted from the eponym Franz-Olivier Giesbert's novel, narrating and improving the “thrilling” life of a real French mafia tycoon: Jacky Imbert.

There isn’t that much to talk about the movie itself, so I’ll allow myself to side track a little on stereotypes and repetition patterns in the modern works of art and entertainment: There is a point when you have seen, read, listened to so much things, there are patterns emerging in the global cultural zeitgeist, a point where the self proclaimed style of an author or production becomes so predictable it strips out all the fun out of the sampling of said work.

Actually, there’s even a point when it gets so much, it’s clearly an insult to the audience. Like here.

For those outside France, I should explain the EuropaCorp recipe for a movie; it’s a matter of laugh here on our Interwebs. Search Europacorp + Mozinor on YouTube you’ll see what I mean. Anyway to sum that little instructive video up, it’s said that a good movie should have a tough hero, protecting a whore against bad guys and car chases in Audi vehicles. With some changes to diversify the target audience, sometime the hero is Chinese, or a cop posing as a thug, or his daughter has been kidnapped to be sold as a ho, etc.

Here we have the unavoidable tough hero. For a change he is not protecting a whore, but his own son. (Whose mother incidentally was a prostitute the hero took of the curbs, so there’s still the whore factor). And of course there are bad guys wanting to kill him. And Audi vehicles, so many and so blatantly put to the screen it’s like a two hours commercial for the brand. Can someone explain to me what the deal between Audi and Besson is? Does he have parts in the brand? Or is it the other way around? You won’t notice it if there’s enough time between movies for you to forget, but have yourself a marathon and it will jump at you like the carcass of last Christmas’ capon.

Anyway, the major change from the other EuropaCorp productions, is that we are now in the special niche of the geriatric-action; the hero is past retirement age, so are the bad guys. You definitely notice that you live in an aging society when you get, instead of the usual “bloody ascension of a mafia thug”, a “bloody retirement of a mafia thug”. Clearly, marketing is a wonderful thing, there are more old people than young ones in this country, so let’s make action heroes out of retired sods way beyond their expiration date we’ll get a bigger market share than with our usual “gangsta teens from the suburbs of Paris”-typed movies. No need to change anything else anyway, whatever their age they’re just too dumb to notice we are selling them the same plot for over a decade! Or maybe I’m unarguably not the target audience at all.

This being said, what can we salvage from this movie?

First point, I have to say that the violence is well executed. The movie opens like a commercial for some pasta sauce, with the hero getting jars of pickled-whatevers from his mother then walking down the nice little streets of a typically-typical southern city, clothes hanging to wires stretched across the buildings, uneven cobblestones, his son walking by him, a little terrier dog jumping around and frolicking. It’s so cute and ethnic I’d almost wanted lasagna and cannoli.

Then we have nearly seven minutes of Audi commercial, with the hero driving around the country while enjoying classical music. Red Stone, Deep-green Pines, Blue Sea, Road lacing the countryside like a ribbon of liberty across the savage wilds… you get the idea. More shots of the Audi, some quality time between father and son in the classy full leather interior and we are on the Old port of Marseilles. There’s a sideshow attraction outside, a dancing goat that is, complete with barrel organ and crusty peddler, the brat wants to see it and gets out of the car while his father goes into the parking. He parks the car, wait for the CD to finish while trying (badly) to sing along. And there, out of this quarter of an hour of total and absolute boredom, out of nowhere, two black and shiny cars, eight guys dropping out, and shooting the devil out of him.

Beautifully shot. Brutal, unexpected and nasty. Like Murphy’s shootdown in the director’s cut of Robocop. They even kill the annoying excuse for a dog at point blank range with a shotgun. I had hope for the rest of the movie after that one. Too bad it doesn’t live up to it.

Well I can’t deny that the global pure-violence scenes are nicely done, it’s the rest that make me cringe, for example, on a purely technical point, I know it’s supposed to be a style and all, but I always find stupid to let a drummer do the editing. *drum sound* *cut* *drum sound* *cut* *drum sound* *cut* , that with shaky-camera effects and added motion blur, doesn’t make a scene quicker nor tense, nor anything but insufferable. Sadly most of the car chases and would-be-intense moments are spoiled that way.

Speaking of chases, there’s a hilarious “going down the garrigue roads on my enduro motorcycle” straight out of the late 60’s De Funes cop-versus-naturists comedies. Hilarious mostly thanks to the stunt double having no more than a third of the bulk of Reno, and the fact I was waiting to see a Citroën 2CV, with Sister Clotilde and Cruchot inside, cross the path of the chase. Sadly, they only copy-pasted the concept without embracing fully the reference. I’d rather see the pillaging of old movies assumed for a change…

On the other hand, there is one thing you can’t get nail on Europa : it’s the production value on little details. The world depicted feels credible, flashbacks are using period vehicles and clothes (more or less, I didn’t push into it, maybe it’s wrong by 5 years, but it’s far better than the usual French standards). Eventually, such things only emphasize on how bad the story is weaved and shot, because well, you only seek this kind of tidbits when there’s not enough on screen to occupy your frontal lobes. Globally “L’immortel” feels like a TV evening-presentation, commercials included, and that’s clearly not what I’d want to see when I go to the theater.

The character design is perfect. Yes, really : every single goofy archetype of both the polar and the action movie is used. Why bother in making anything new when you have such a wide panel of pre-made cardboard cutouts to staple into your movie?

Let’s see … In the family of “worst clichés to use in a polar” I want the female inspector/single mother-widow with a drinking problem. She’s here, using Marina Foïs as a vector for her day-to-day mild despair and exhaustion, making the character look, and specially sound, like a M.I.L.F. you’d want to soil with porcine manure. In this fiction she’s tied into the “real-life” story by being the widow of Pierre Goldman. In the movie, thanks to the combined skills of the 4 scenarists after a week of cocaine-induced brain-storming, he’s a cop killed by Tony Zacchia, the villain of the story; in our world he was a left-wing terrorist, presumably killed by Tany Zampa the real life counterpart of our movie bad guy.

Speaking of the archenemy, he is depicted as the hypochondriac villain with a sp-spsp-speech impediment, incidentally looking straight out of a Bob Morane novel or some low-grade Fu Manchu parody. Moreover he’s played by Kad Merad, who doesn’t know a dime about acting and feels like some sort of foot fungus you can’t scrub off. On the other hand, the whole being a mix of fiction and biography, with this one I don’t really know if it’s simply a stupid cliché, or some way to get “vae victis!” on the memory of a fallen enemy by defiling him one last time. The real guy behind the character being dead since 1984, I’ll bet on the second possibility, corpses don’t complain.

The hero oscillates between the usual clichés, namely the “blow-up-the-bad-guy-while-grinning type” and the “moody-gunslinger-who-will-only-draw-when-he-must type”, with some lukewarm canned-pathos around the corner when his son gets kidnapped by Zacchia’s minions. On that particular point, let me say that “the strong guy trying to rein in his sorrow” can be expressed with something else than a ridiculous trembling lower lip, it’s so hilarious it spoils the mood of the so called “emotion” scenes.

Of course the movie being what it is, the “out-of-the-blue emotion-deepening scenes” are always followed by a brutal death of some sort. Five minutes of casual family time centered on a henchman of the hero, showing he’s whatever pass for a good son nowadays, and there he goes, ‘napped, tortured, killed. It’s like the “we’ve seen her boobs so she’ll die” rule, only written bigger by a less able toddler. You just KNOW what’s gonna happen in the next minute.

Not only are the forced emotion and the docking-cables pulling every dialogue and script-part around showing too much, the acting is also atrocious most of the time. More than half of the side-roles have the conviction and drive of a garden variety sponge on Valium. The only overall laudable performance is the one of Jean Pierre Daroussin, depicting the mostly-faithful right hand.

As for Reno it’s a shame that, as an action actor, he went from the non talking brute in “le dernier combat” to the not-talking-much thug/contract killer (nikita / léon) , side stepped into the moody cop in “les rivières pourpres”, to end into his new niche the taciturn Mafia tycoon . Isn’t there a pattern herein? Don’t get me wrong I like the guy, and god knows he can act, he’s brilliant in comedy (“les visiteurs”, enough said), that’s the stereotype he’s locked in I don’t. Why absolutely sell him like a mute froggy-ied Bruce Willis I don’t get it.

And why, for the love of everything that’s pure in this world, end a darned bloodbath of a movie on something as lame and stupid as “Hero playing kite on the beach at sunset with his children and wife, saying in voice over that family is the best thing in life”? Bloody hell, you just made around 45 widows and a litter of orphans in the course of the movie, you big douche. And all that while playing the 5th Element’s version of “lucia di lamermoor” in the background? There is a limit to re-use; it’s as shocking to hear that as it was to realize that the seaplane in the first Indiana Jones had Tie Fighter engine sounds.

Finally, I never could understand why on earth people always worship and incense thugs and mafia godfathers. For instance, make a movie stating that Hitler was a nice guy at heart, or Charles Manson loved kittens, that Pol Pot was a charming great father, Mussolini loved to dance polka, and you’ll get at best some little consideration as an artist, no commercial success at all, and surely one or two lobby groups suing you for the principle. But film a bloody thug, as evolved as a reptile under cold weather, killing, raping, and working his way through respectability by bribing everyone and you’ll get praises and the general approval. That’s so hypocritical I could shit Mein Kampf.

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pat (12 years ago) Reply

great well written review but i gotta see it myself first.
would be interesting to compile a list that adheres to those EuropaCorp stereotypes.

taken comes to mind
so does kiss of the dragon. from paris with love also works. any more?


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Europa Corp. works like an exploitation house. Lots of hard-boiled genre stuff, but that's actually well funded and packed with talent.

Anyone rememebr the cop buddy comedy "Wasabi" with Reno? An oldie, but a goodie.


Sunolet (12 years ago) Reply

I love Wasabi, i think the smacking yakuza with a golf club was my favorite part. Anywho, huge Reno fan, did not like L'Immortel as much as expected. It's one of those movies that just kinda takes up space in your memory, not really anything that makes it stand out

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