Sunday, September 17, 2006


(Special Presentations)
France, 2006, 110 minutes
Written by Tonino Benaquista, Manuel Pradal
Directed by Manuel Pradal
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Emmanuelle Béart, Norman Reedus

I love a twisty, turny puzzle just as much as the next noir addict. “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Double Indemnity,” “Body Heat,” “L.A. Confidential” – these are noirs that have entered the pantheon of what are generally considered classic crime films, exploring the darkest corners of the human heart with wit and style to burn. Sad to say, “Un Crime” won’t be joining them, not if I can help it.

The third effort from Manuel Pradal (“Marie baie des anges”) lands with such a lifeless thud that by the time its machinations kicked into gear I just couldn’t bring myself to really care.

Overly long and sluggishly paced, “Un Crime” begins with, well, a crime (just one now): the murder of the wife of Vincent (permanently lank-haired Reedus, familiar to some as Scud in “Blade II” and recently seen in the brilliant John Carpenter "Masters of Horror" installment, “Cigarette Burns”). Fast forward a couple of years and Vincent is renting a seedy apartment in a bleak New York and races his Greyhound (the dog, not the bus) for income. He’s pestered by Alice (Beart) who’s convinced they’re meant to be together, if only he can have closure on his past. So Alice sets out to provide that closure, roping in taxi driver Roger (Keitel) at random to construct a solution to Vincent’s emotional inertia. Of course, it all goes horribly awry, descending into more madness and violence, all to sputter out in a rather unsatisfactory and downright baffling conclusion.

Questions cropped up in my mind as I was watching “Un Crime.” First, I couldn’t understand Alice’s obsession with Vincent: the man is an empty, brooding dullard at best, not particularly bright or interesting (even in a tragic, tortured college-poet way). I honestly thought Roger was a better guy, maybe not a great hunk, but at least honest and forthright and possessing some fire. Also, I couldn’t understand why either guy would get involved with Alice, as beautiful as she is (Beart disrobes regularly--so that's something), since everything she says and does points to some level of delusion or mental illness (in fact, one remark I overheard when the film was finished: “What a crazy b*tch!”). Last, the greatest mystery of all: why, oh why, are we still being subjected to a naked Harvey Keitel?? An open plea to future directors: keep ‘im covered, okay? For all our sakes? For what it's worth, "The Piano" was a very long time ago....'nuff said.

"Likeable" characters aren’t always essential for my enjoyment of a film, particularly those that explore the seedier side of life– in fact, some of my favourite characters in film are total misanthropes (Travis Bickle, George Taylor the astronaut, Buddy Ackerman ). But understanding them is important--just basic stuff like motivations, desires--none seemingly possessed by the ciphers on parade here. It just isn’t there in “Un Crime,” at least not in the female lead. And when a character is the lynchpin of the story, not having that just makes for a really dull two hours.