Saturday, May 7, 2011

More international crime films

Here's another batch of films made outside Hollywood for folks who like stories about crime and criminals. Two are from France, one from England, and one from Belgium.

Tell No One (2006). A suspense thriller from France that draws on several classics of film noir while immersing the viewer in a creepily entertaining mystery that involves, among many things, a wife who may or may not be dead.

Eight years after the unsolved murder of a man's wife, he begins to receive mysterious email messages that lead him to believe she is still alive. When more long-dead bodies show up, the case is reopened and he suddenly becomes a suspect. Despite his innocence, he has reason to flee, with the cops in hot pursuit.

This tightly plotted crime film from director Guillaume Canet has great performances by Fran├žois Cluzet and Kristin Scott Thomas. Unfolding breathlessly, it takes one unexpected turn after another, and the surprises don't stop until the end. Based on a bestseller by American writer Harlan Coben. 

London to Brighton (2000). This 85-minute thriller from director Paul Andrew Williams ramps up the tension from the first frame and doesn't take off the pressure for a second. Lorraine Stanley is terrific as a London prostitute who gets involved in some nasty business involving a runaway girl and a wealthy client. The following day, on the run to Brighton, with her pimp in hot pursuit, she tries to scrape up the cash to put the girl on a train to Devon.

Events, crammed into a single day, move much too fast finally for everybody, and two graves dug in the night are eventually occupied by the fated victims. Photography and editing are as fine as the performances of the cast, and the music track is especially haunting. Rarely has the Moonlight Sonata been used in a film to underscore such a darkly grim sense of foreboding. A real nail-biter. 

Read My Lips (2001). This one from French director Jacques Audiard is a head trip for any movie fan familiar with the conventions of office dramas and heist thrillers. It's full of surprising turns of plot and quirky details in the performances.

The two leads are the opposite of glamorous, and the chemistry between them is more about clever calculation and quick thinking than romantic attraction. Vincent Cassel plays an ex-con. Emmanuelle Devos is his hard-of-hearing accomplice.

While there are a couple of pretty nasty, brutish types capable of bloody punch-ups and clearly a willingness to kill, the violence in the film is muted. Instead, the film generates an old-fashioned kind of suspense that is more like Hitchcock -- almost elegant. I was continually being taken by surprise, then realizing that every unexpected turn of plot was also completely plausible, until I was so far sucked into the movie that plausibility didn't matter any more. 

The Memory of a Killer (2003). I'm not a huge fan of movies about hit men, but this one really grabbed and held me for its full two hours of nonstop action. A mix of thriller and police procedural, the film by Flemish director Erik Van Looy is clever, intelligent, and compelling as any Helen Mirren Prime Suspect.

There is wit and some broad humor, and it's also reminiscent of Hitchcock. The suspense sequences manage to keep our sympathies with both the young police investigators and the aging hit man they are pursuing - quite a trick. An added twist is that the hit man in question is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's, which alters his perception of what is going on around him as well as his memory.

The performances in the film are excellent, especially the amazing Jan Decleir as the killer. The cinematography and editing craftily reflect the complexity of the intertwining threads of plot. The soundtrack is drivingly strident (sounds like beating on trash cans) and creepy by turns. And BMW owners may wish that the film didn't make so much of a malicious practical joke directed as unerringly at them as the laser beam that shines from the hit man's gun.

All are available at netflix.

Coming up: Ralph Connor, The Sky Pilot (1899)


  1. Thanks for the recommendations. I'm going to have to queue these; the only one I've seen was Tell No One and I really enjoyed it.

  2. LONDON TO BRIGHTON is new to me. The others I have enjoyed already.