Sunday, October 27, 2013

Con artists on parade: Eric Besnard's CA$H proves gorgeous, glossy, star-studded fun

Five years old already but holding up rather well, CA$H, a French mainstream bauble from 2008 ostensibly about a flock of con artists trying to outwit each other, went straight to DVD the following year here in the USA. This is undoubtedly because its star, the Oscar-winning Jean Dujardin, had not yet been seen in any film here in the States other than OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (which garnered neither much press nor box-office). That satirical series actually gifted TrustMovies with one of his main desires over the past few years: to see M. Dujardin play what one might call just an "ordinary" leading man, after seeing him do very good work in more-or-less "stunt" roles such as the OSS guy or that near-silent movie performer in The Artist.

TM actually interviewed Dujardin (above) in 2010, upon the release here of his second OSS movie (OSS 117: Lost in Rio). Even then I was champing at the bit to see how the actor might handle a more "normal" role. He's actually made a number of these kinds of films, but we've yet to see them over here (His tiny role in Little White Lies, though pivotal, was close to non-existent -- one of the big problems with this movie.) Now, with CA$H, available via Netflix streaming, we can do just this: see Dujardin play an almost stereotypical con artist/hero. Are we surprised that he comes through with flying colors?  I shouldn't think so.

Instead of being required to play an affectation up the wazoo, as in the OSS films, or giving a performance that constantly comments on itself, as in The Artist (doing these as well as does Dujardin is no mean feat, by the way), the actor is asked only by his writer/director, Eric Besnard (shown at left), to be glamorous, easy-going and sexy -- all of which seem to come as naturally to Dujardin as they do, say, to a certain Mr. Clooney on our side of the pond. In fact, his light-heartedness and light-footedness in this role are one of the reason the movie works as well as it so often does.

To even begin to talk about the plot -- which offers surprise after surprise along the way, some of which you might guess, leading up to the final one (which I suspect you will not) -- is useless and wrong-headed, as this can only result in coming too close to a spoiler or two. Let's just say that the movie begins with a smart "con," using that marvelous actor Clovis Cornillac (above), and then simply keeps the "conning" coming.

I mentioned the word glossy in my headline. This movie practically defines the term. The locations should have travelers salivating; the sets, costumes and decor are all aces, right down the line; and the pacing is slow enough (some might say a tad too slow) to give you time to drink it all in. This last might be considered a criticism, but I so enjoyed these visuals, coupled to a cast that is just about as mainstream glossy as France and Europe can currently provide, that the whole thing adds up to a very big "What's not to like?"

That cast? Ah, yes: In addition to Dujardin, we have the gorgeous (in very different ways) Alice Taglioni (above, wearing the cap) and Italy's Valeria Golino (below, with Dujardin and stuffed animals). Both actresses are just right and add immeasurably to the fun going on.

Add to the mix the super-professional Jean Reno (below) doing what he does best -- and expertly, as usual...

...while, for class, there's the terrific François Berléand, not seen often enough here in the U.S. in recent times (save for a short, smart role in The Stroller Strategy earlier this year). He's shown in the photo, right, with Caroline Proust, a young lady who had already made her mark in the soon-to-be-hugely-popular-internationally French TV Series, Spiral (Engrenages) -- here essaying one of the gang members, while showing Berléand how good she is at playing pool. Ms. Proust is fine in her somewhat truncated role, but what a difference it is seeing her as a leading lady in Spiral!

The rest of the cast -- which includes the likes of Samir Guesmi, Eriq Ebouaney, the late Jocelyn Quivrin and Ciarán Hinds -- adds talent and luster, but I think it's probably the overall cleverness of the twisty plot that will keep alert viewers most happy. CA$H is simply such good fun.

The movie -- running 100 minutes and sporting the IFC logo in its opening frame (though the film can nowhere be found on that distribution company's web site) -- is available now via Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video and on DVD.

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