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Le Tueur
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by Jay Seaver

"What you expect from a French hitman movie, in all the right ways."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Le Tueur" is the very image of what the phrase "French film" often brings to mind. It's alternatively talkative and quiet, casually sexual, and deals with matters of life and death with what seems like emotionless detachment. What makes it notable is that it manages to scratch beneath that surface without seeming arch or self-satisfied about it.

We start out with Leo Zimmerman (Gilbert Melki), a reasonably successful financier, doing some shopping with his beautiful daughter Alana. He seems nervous, as if he can sense the man following and filming him. That footage winds up in the hands of Dimitri Kopas (Gregoire Colin), an assassin who has been hired to kill Leo. When Kopas visits Leo in his office, he knows his number is up, so he confronts him and asks a favor - let him live until Saturday, so he can pull off one last big deal and make sure Alana is taken care of. He knows his wife Sylvia (Sophie Cattani) is having an affair with his partner Xavier Franzen (Xavier Beauvois), and the idea of Franzen raising his daughter makes him blind with rage. Kopas agrees - why not? - using the free time to strike something up with Stella (Melanie Laurent), a model he meets in the hotel lobby.

There have been hundreds of cinematic hitmen, so often played as cool to the point where it's become almost impossible to avoid self-parody. Gregoire Colin doesn't quite sidestep that, but he handles it. He's got the cool exterior (and interior, for that matter), but there's something awkward about his isolation from regular people. He trips over his own tongue when hitting on Sylvia, and seems to become keenly aware that he doesn't have much of an existence outside of his job. He is so conditioned to leave no trace of his presence that he sometimes seems likely to disappear entirely.

Gilbert Melki's Leo is another thing entirely. He absolutely radiates warmth when sharing the screen with Alana, and is as jittery and nervous early on as one might expect someone living under a death sentence to be. He's far from perfect - there's sometimes hidden venom when he talks with his wife in front of their daughter, and he spends time in a grimy heroin den - but he's a very interesting protagonist, with a perfect mix of honor and anger with regard to his predicament.

The rest of the cast does an apt job of supporting them. Melanie Laurent gets the most time as Stella, the very self-aware girl who seems like an unusually good match for Kapos, though is perhaps most captivating in the scene she shares with Melki. There's a wonderful ambiguity to Sophie Cattani's Sylvia, who falls well short of being a monster but is also clearly no saint. Xavier Beauvois isn't around very much, but does the necessary job of making his character kind of despicable without making him the one-note villain. I wish I knew the name of the child actress playing Alana, because she's adorable.

It's a very strong feature debut for writer-director Cedric Anger. He stays away from Paris's more photogenic areas, instead placing his characters in a world that is anonymous and not glamorous, but can easily be seen as somebody's home. He gets note-perfect performances from his cast. And the script is a meticulously plotted thing of beauty, with nothing that's unnecessary, some precisely targeted moments of humor, and the sort of plot twists that are unexpected but also feel like the only way that the story could go. The ending is a perfect example of that, inevitable and yet surprisingly heartfelt.

"Le Tueur" is very representative of a certain type of french film, and as a hitman drama has a lot of very familiar parts, but seldom do you see them handled so elegantly.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17641&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/19/08 12:25:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/21/08 Catalina Khalaj Well-defined characters, a story that keeps you interested till the end. 4 stars
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