Mea Culpa (2014) Original French language, English subtitles.
****No plot spoilers****
I happened to notice that this film was being shown on BBC TV the other night. I hadn’t heard of it, but the fact that it was French, and an action thriller, seemed good enough reasons to watch it.
And I was so glad that I did!
On the surface, there is nothing new here. Two friends, one a cop, one an ex-cop, and his former partner. One is a widower, bringing up his young daughter, the other disgraced after a drink-drive incident, unable to cope with the guilt, and separated from his wife and young son.
Vincent Lindon is Simon; grizzled, depressed, forced to find a job as a security guard, and unable to cope with the shame of his dismissal from the Police. Gilles Lellouche is Franck; also grizzled, sad at the death of his wife, struggling to hold down his job as a policeman, and bring up his daughter at the same time. The two friends keep in touch, they socialise, and they have bonded for life.
Then a series of gangland murders set a chain of events in motion, events that will change the lives of both men completely.
So, we have some mean East European gangsters moving in on the local crime scene. They are ruthless and cruel, and leave no witnesses behind. During one of their executions, the killing is witnessed by a young boy. That boy just happens to be Simon’s son, and the action begins…
How can this all add up to a really convincing, edge-of-the-seat thriller? Well believe me, it does. Everything about this film is economical. Breathless foot chases around the old town of Toulon, in southern France. Sudden and realistic shoot outs, convincing fights, and totally believable characters. A small cast, with most of it featuring in every scene, and even a car chase that isn’t really a chase, but is just as exciting. Added to all of that, the running time is remarkably economical too, at just 95 minutes. It goes to show how much you can pack in to such a tight film.
There are few slow-downs. Some flashback scenes set the back story, and there is occasional parental angst, as well as the obvious marital difficulties on display. But this film is essentially a relentless series of superb set-pieces; from the shoot-out outside a police station, to a hectic pursuit in a bullring, on to another bullet-fest in a busy nightclub, with a thrilling climax on board a speeding inter-city train. I felt worn out just watching it, and my attention never wandered for a second. And there is a great twist at the end, with a detailed ‘reveal’.
I didn’t see that coming, I can tell you.
This is simply a masterclass in how to make an action film grab a viewer’s attention, make them root for the good guys, and get lost in the whirlwind of action sequences. No CGI, no unrealistic scenarios, and no pointless love interest either. This is classy; a very good thing, in a small package. We might think we have seen it all before, and we have. But this is how it should have been done.
I loved it.