Racer and the Jailbird

 

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Yet another impressive film that loses its way in its later stages.

   

Racer and the Jailbird

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Matthias Schoenaerts

  

Many a crime film features a story in which a robber about to retire undertakes one last heist which then goes wrong. Altogether less familiar is the notion of portraying a girl from a totally different background in love with such a man, although one does recall They Live by Night (1948) and its Altman remake of 1974, Thieves Like Us. This new film from the talented Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam - who triumphed in Hollywood with The Drop (2014) - finds him back on home ground with a tale that combines both elements. Even so, it is the love story that is the main focus as is confirmed by the movie's original and better title Le Fidèle.

 

The English language title is in fact a reference to the two leading characters. Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a racing driver from a wealthy family while Gigi (Matthias Schoenaerts) appears to deal in cars but is actually a criminal whose way of life with his friends grew out of being a loner without a family (a childhood preface illustrating this immediately grips us). Without any build-up, Bibi and Gigi meet and fall in love and, thanks to splendid performances from both players, we totally believe it even as we wonder to what extent Bibi suspects what the secretive Gigi really does for a living. As the story progresses Gigi is ready to change but is already committed to a carefully planned ambush of a moving vehicle that provides a bravura action sequence. But as Bibi, now engaged to Gigi, fully faces up to the truth we wait to see if their love can survive. 

 

Racer and the Jailbird tells its story in three distinct sections. By the time that we reach the second of them, Roskam's technical assurance and his persuasive depiction of the contrasting environments in the tale remain firm but the writing sometimes feels a bit set up, as in the case of Gigi's phobia about dogs and an advance warning that he often acts in ways that he can't himself explain. However, any doubts that arise here are relatively minor and it is the film's third section where disappointment really sets in. Up to that point, the drama has validly grown out of the situation of this couple but now, with an increasingly rushed narrative, one feels that what fate throws at them is a contrivance by writers determined to pile on the agony - in addition to which the events depicted become ever more unlikely. It's a shame because so much here is very, very good and Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos make a great team.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric de Staercke, Jean-Benoît Ugeux, Nabil Missoumi, Thomas Coumans, Nathalie Van Tongelen, Fabien Magry, Serge Riaboukine.

 

Dir Michaël R. Roskam, Pro Bart Van Langendonck and Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, Screenplay Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré and Michaél R. Roskam, Ph Nicolas Karakatsanis, Art Dir Geert Paredis, Ed Alain Dessauvage, Music Raf Keunen, Costumes Kristin Van Passel.

  
RT Savage Film/Stone Angels/Submarine/Kaap Holland Film/Frakas Productions-Thunderbird Releasing.
130 mins. Belgium/France/Netherlands. 2017. Rel: 13 July 2018. Cert. 15.