Well that was fucking awesome. But an entirely familiar way, which I've not decided to be a good or bad thing quite yet. Does doing something seen before well add to the awesomeness, or does it slightly detract from it? Who knows, but before I get to it there is something of terrifying importance that needs addressing. Some of the praises I've seen floating around for this film often include the word original, or a synonym to the same effect. But I don't think that's the case here. For a prison movie, I think a lot of what is here has been seen before, its just never had a french accent. And that is something that gets a certain few foreign movies better reviews here then perhaps they deserve. Having said that, this movie is to paraphrase myself ten lines ago, fucking awesome. It's such an accomplished, stylish and electrifying movie, that does great character work as well as containing enough brutally uncompromising violence to put Scorsese to shame.
Director Jacques Audiard, who gave us the similarly impressive The Beat That My Heart Skipped, tells what is almost a classic rags to riches gangster tale, which feels less overblown and cliched then the usual because of the fierce realism he infuses the film with, thus the gangster element, and the occasional but often beautiful stylistic touches, feels so much more vital. And while I've seen prison hierarchy films before, where its the connected gangsters that really run the show and the young upstart having to worm his way in to survive the brutality of the joint. The plot sometimes felt like a Grand Theft Auto mission, but in prison, going from one shady dealing to the next, whilst climbing the ladder. But in a good way. The naturalism of Audiard is nicely complimented by the simple relatibility of leading man Tahar Rahim, who gives a great performance that isn't showy or false. His performance mirrors the movie in a way, where the constant and deliberate frankness he gives the character allow the more soulful moments, when they come, to be so much more effective. Kudos too to Niels Arestrup, an Audiard regular, who gives his aged Corsican criminal a wiseness, but also an impulsive brutality that all the best gangster villains seem to have. Its great to see the script make his character more then a stepping stone villain, and Arestrup certainly adds to the success of the character a great deal. The rest of the cast is pretty much without a weak link, with further special mention going to Adel Bencherif who takes what could have been a throwaway best friend role and gives it as much wait as it could hold. But for the great work of the actors, this is the director's achievement most of all, and he has yet again made something that would no doubt seem like trash on the page into such a work of art. Yet also be exciting. You'd never expect it from a French film-maker.
We are only in January, but I can't imagine seeing many better films then this in 2010. Its almost a template as to how movies should be made. Like I said, fucking awesome.