France has been resetting the yardstick on international action cinema for over a decade, thanks largely to a successful slate of mid-budget action films from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp featuring the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li, David Belle, and Liam Neeson, but that brand of slick, sleek, colorful continental thriller is not the only flavor coming from France. Eric Valette’s The Prey goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle with mixed results. It’s a clever idea – a bank robber has to escape prison when he learns that his former cellmate is actually a serial killer who has targeted his wife and child – sustained largely on momentum and stunts that practically leave bruises on the screen. It’s the sloppy scripting that trips it up.
Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a successful hold-up so he can walk out a free man and retrieve the hidden haul. He doesn’t trust anyone (he keeps the location of the stolen money a secret from his fellow gang members) but makes the mistake of asking his cellmate Jean-Louis (Stéphane Debac), a seemingly meek religious-fanatic whose claim of innocence seems born out when the case is overturned, to reach out to his wife. Once he learns the truth from an obsessed police detective (Sergi López) he turns a prison beat-down into an escape opportunity and the manhunt is on.
Alice Taglioni is the beautiful and tough-as-nails Detective Claire Linné, the kind of female cop who goes undercover as a hooker so she can break out in badass mode while dressed like a tart.
Blue Jasmine (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and clearly she is a wonder in this film. Woody Allen reworks A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche DuBois as a woman who remade herself into a Park Avenue socialite and is now adrift after her husband (Alec Baldwin) turned out to be a Madoff-like crook. Left with nothing but expensive tastes, an utterly self-absorbed personality, alcohol and pill abuse, and a nervous breakdown from which she has not completely recovered, she takes refuge with her working class sister (Sally Hawkins, also nominated this year) and her contractor boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) without a shred of appreciation.
Woody is often sharp with character study and Jasmine is something else, but his portrait of San Francisco working class folk is less convincing and carried only by the strength of a typically excellent cast (it also co-stars Louis C. K., Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) and an honesty and commitment that the socially poised rich of the film lack. But Blanchett is riveting as the unraveling, self-pitying socialite on the skids, drinking and popping Xanax until it lubricates her slide into denial.
Blu-ray and DVD both feature a 25-minute press conference with actor Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay and a shorter promotional “Notes from the Red Carpet” featurette. No surprise, Allen makes no appearance in any of the supplements. The Blu-ray also features a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Another Oscar nominee, Captain Phillips (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks (who was overlooked this year) as the captain of a cargo ship boarded by Somali pirates, arrives on disc and digital. The film picked up six nominations, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role for Barkhad Abdi, a Somali non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a pirate in a desperate situation. No review copy was made available before deadline so no notes on the extras.
The Prey (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), a French crime thriller that goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle, is a clever idea with a lazy script more concerned with creating fights, chase scenes, and escapes from police dragnets than in constructing anything resembling intelligent police work. Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a success robbery, until he has to escape when he learns that his recently released religious-fanatic cellmate (Stéphane Debac) is actually a serial killer heading for his wife and child. Alice Taglioni is the tough-as-nails detective assigned to track him down as new evidence (planted by the real killer) implicates Franck in a string of unsolved murders.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds—it’s basically The Fugitive with a creepy psycho in place of the one-armed man and the life of a kidnapped child at stake—and Eric Valette delivers on the action if not on the intelligence of the cops (who would forget to stake out the suspect’s own home after he escapes prison?). Franck takes a beating beyond human endurance through it all, but as long as the momentum keeps up, and you can almost overlook the rampant clichés and the script’s glaring missteps. Almost. No surprise, it’s already been picked up for an American remake.