What a random booking this was: A French thriller from 2011 (heck, it was actually released on French-language Canadian DVD over a year ago), somehow sneaking into a few theaters across the country (Box Office Mojo says five), and in Boston, it's not the boutique-ish place in Kendall Square, but the big AMC multiplex in Boston Common. Granted, that's sort of where it belongs - if it weren't in French, it would be seen as a pretty good thriller with plenty of running and jumping and shooting and fighting. But, for some reason, folks don't come out to see them; I think I even saw a couple of people walking out once subtitles started popping up.
Not that I initially connected it with subtitles; I was just thinking "really, guys, you need to hit the restroom now?" See enough foreign-language films as a matter of course, and it becomes easy to forget that a lot of people don't go for non-English-language movies. I don't blame them, really; Hollywood puts out more entertaining movies than most folks have time to watch, so why make things more difficult by having to deal with a foreign language or subtitles?
Well, here's the funny thing - as I noted a couple years ago, the French do this sort of mid-budget action thriller better than anyone else right now, and there's not really a whole lot like it out in theaters right now. Now You See Me would be the closest (it's directed by a French guy for what it's worth), but it's trying to be something bigger. Fast & Furious 6 is spiritually similar, but that's a nine-figure blockbuster (which shares a fight choreographer with The Prey). There's not a lot of actionout there right now that isn't looking to overwhelm you, and that makes The Prey hit the spot.
One other thing I recalled as a result of watching The Prey: This is the 20th anniversary year of The Fugitive (recalled by both this movie's "man-on-the-run" plot and seeing a bald, menacing Harrison Ford in the trailer for Paranoia). That movie deserves a theatrical re-release. No need to 3-D-ify it like Jurassic Park got, just find a relatively quiet weekend and put it out there. I mean, I suppose we'll see it here in five years when the Brattle does their annual reunion weekend shows, and I see Warner is putting an anniversary-edition Blu-ray out in September (necessary, as the BD/HD-DVD edition from a few years ago is not great), but I want to see it on the big screen again.
La Proie (The Prey)
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2013 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, 4K DCP)
The Prey isn't a big summer blockbuster by American standards; for all I know, it wasn't a big deal when it played its native France as "La Proie" two years before its American release. It is a lean, mean, no-messing-around entry in the genre, and if you're not averse to people speaking French as they play a nifty game of cat-and-mouse, it's well worth checking to see if it popped up in your area.
Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) is in prison for bank robbery, and does not have many friends there: One of his partners-in-crime, Novick (Olivier Schneider), would really like to know where Franck hid the money; his cellmate Jean-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac) is in on molestation charges and his claims of innocence (backed up by his accuser recanting her testimony) give a bunch of prisoners and guards who want him beat to a pulp no compunctions about going through Franck to do it, as they don't like his attitude anyway. He does have a beautiful wife (Caterina Murino) and daughter (Jaïa Caltagirone) waiting for him on the outside, and has Maurel pass them a message on his release - which may not have been a good idea according to an obsessed detective (Sergi López). When Franck can't get Anna on the phone, he escapes, and the gendarmes put a crack team led by Claire Linné (Alice Taglioni) on his tail.
There are crime movies that are about examining the complexities of seemingly amoral characters who live by their own code, and there are ones where the characters are who they are in order to get the audience from confrontation to trap and back again. The Prey is unequivocally in the latter category; writers Laurent Turner & Luc Bossi and director Eric Valette don't quite feed one action scene straight into another, but while things will sometimes decelerate just enough for the characters to plot their next move, it almost never shows down enough for actual introspection. That can sometimes be looked at as a weakness, but it works here, in large part because Turner & Bossi have come up with a villainous master plan that is genuinely diabolical without getting stretched to the breaking point by the finale. Part of this is because they don't overcomplicate things, allowing characters to be opportunistic rather than anticipating specific details; part is just that French guys are not inclined to have something come out of nowhere to force them to pull their punches.
Full review on eFilmCritic.