Monday, June 3, 2013

THE PREY's Eric Valette, Laurent Turner & Luc Bossi create a crackerjack new thriller

Remember Tell No One -- that unusual French thriller that proved the most successful foreign-language film to be released in the USA during 2008? Most confirmed and avid movie-goers will, while also wondering why there has been so little so good in this genre since then. All of which makes the release of a (relatively) new French thriller THE PREY (La proie, from 2011) so welcome. It's one of the best of its kind since Tell No One, combining everything from bank robbery and stashed loot to prison, escape, chase, a serial killer, cops, kids, and some quite beautiful young women, not all of whom will make it to their middle age. If it is not as convoluted (nor juicy) as that fine earlier film, this new one nonetheless manages to take its rather standard materials and juggle them about as expertly as you could wish -- or expect -- in these dumbed-down days.

Director Eric Valette (shown at right), together with his screen-writers Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi, gives us a story that starts in one direction then veers in another and yet another as we gladly race along keeping up. Don't get too attached to all the characters, however; as in life, some of the good folk leave us as young and untimely as we might wish for the evil ones. That said, The Prey tends to be more conventional in its use of bad guys and good than Tell No One (or the also excellent French thrillers Point Blank and Sleepless Night). There are no big conspiracies here, and the cops, though they may be dumb, are at least decent.

As usual, the less said about plot will allow you to experience the ongoing surprises, and a nice number of these there are. Instead, let's talk about the cast -- as the movie is chock full of good performers you'll be happy to see again.

The lead roles are taken by that craggy-faced leading man Albert Dupontel (two photos above, of Paris and Intimate Enemies) and Alice Taglioni (just above, and lately seen here in Paris Manhattan). Both actors are quite good, with the gorgeous Ms Taglioni more convincing that you might think as a cop who can rough-house and fight with the best of the boys.

The supporting cast is awash with oft-seen talent, from the wonderful Sergi López (above, as an ex-cop with a big beef) to Natacha Régnier (below, left, as one of the screen's more memorable "enablers," a lady who takes "help-meet" to rather horrifying limits). New to me and creepily memorable is Stéphane Debac (below, with rifle) as the kind of antagonist you'd do well to avoid -- if only you could realize what he was up to in time.

Screenwriters Turner and Bossi create this tapestry of intriguing characters, plots and sub-plots that of course begin to meld, setting them all to spinning, if not exactly merrily, then quite entertainingly. Director Valette keep things moving in tight and focused fashion, pausing only to let his actors ply their trade expertly.

There are some fine action scenes and breath-taking chases, as the suspense keeps ratcheting and the corpses pile up. The filmmakers play their hand for maximum excitement and thrills -- hitting the proper line, I think, between what must be shown regarding the dead and what happened to them, while not making the usual (and often unnecessary) trip to gore-land. What we see is plenty bad enough, but our noses aren't rubbed in the entrails.

The pacing is quite good, too, with the breathless stuff alternating confidently with quieter, character- and plot-driven incidents. All in all, The Prey is a savvy, intelligent, twisty, suspenseful and well-plotted thriller. More, please.

From Cohen Media Group, in French with English subtitles and running 102 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, June 7, at AMC theaters across the country. Here in New York City it's at the Empire 25; in the Los Angeles area at the Burbank Town Center 8; in Boston at the Boston Commons 19; in Phoenix at the "dine-in" Esplanade; and in Seattle at the Pacific Place 11.

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