This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Terrorism. Always a hot potato. One man’s murderous terrorist is another man’s glorious freedom fighter. An area where right and wrong may apply equally. Whatever the moral reasoning it’s a fair bet it’s going to wind you up either dead or in prison. It’s the latter fate that befalls Bruno Le Roux (Lucas Belvaux), a member of the Popular Army, notorious for flushing the heads of the Geek Army down toilets, getting invited to lots of parties and generally acting all smug and self-satisfied. Or perhaps they’re a militant communist splinter cell dedicated to releasing the proletariat from those crazy fat cat capitalist oppressors. Yes, that sounds more plausible.
He’s broken out of jail in a daring manner by an old Popular Army comrade who sadly doesn’t survive. Evading the police on his way back into the city, he makes for a safe house in a row of lock-up garages. After several furtive meals of tinned beans among his armoury he dons one of many Day of the Jackal-ish disguises and varied facial hair and heads off in search of his old commie-lovin’ mates.
Glasnost might not have made much of an impact on Bruno but everyone else has pretty much accepted communism’s dismal failure and moved on with their lives and don’t much appreciate this shadow from their past trying to drag them back into an armed struggle against a system they’ve since joined and made their peace with. With support for an armed takeover of government at something of a premium he settles on trying to get revenge on the man responsible for winding him and several of his revolutionary brothers in clink, Jacquillat (Patrick Descamps).
Jacquillat is now the local drug baron, and while Bruno shakes down one of the low level pushers he encounters Agnes (Dominique Blanc), the junkie wife of the cop Pascal (Gilbert Melki) charged with recapturing him. When he threatens some heroin out of the cowering pusher Bruno acquires an ally in Agnes, who agrees to hide him at a friend, Cecile’s (Ornella Muti) mountain villa. These characters, and that of ex-commie turned schoolteacher Jeanne (Catherine Frot) are important not only in this film but in the other two parts of this loose trilogy, An Amazing Couple and After Life the events of which unfold parallel to this. Whether this interaction genuinely enhances your enjoyment of the other films or is little more than a gimmick is a question we can’t answer yet, although On The Run works perfectly acceptably as a stand alone adventure.
It’s only problem is that there’s not quite enough happening in this section of the story to fill up it’s 110 minute runtime without a fair amount of shuffling in your seat wishing things would get a bit of a move on. Perhaps Belvaux was spending a little too much time on his acting performance at the expense of his more important directorial cast of pacing, which is a pity. Until the final few moments he’s provided a fairly rational and non-partisan look at the lines between fighting for a noble ideal and merely being a cold blooded killer.
Unfortunately he spoils this by striving for a sense of justice in a situation where it appears to be little more than random chance or an act by a jocular God. Telling you what it is ruins an otherwise remarkable moment and an at least interesting ending, but it’s one that seems to have been pulled from a random ‘nice ideas for an ending’ book than one that fits with the tone and outlook of the rest of the film. It’s a noteworthy subversion of the live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword ethos that would otherwise seem to be a genre cliche, but the effect is more comedic than anything and has the effect of making Bruno’s life comedic in retrospect. A more sensible ending would have produced a greater film.
Being French and in three parts everyone immediately points at the Three Colours films as a suitable parallel whereas on a viewing of this first film at least it’s closer in spirit to an extended Pulp Fiction minus Tarantino’s timesplitting antics. There isn’t too much wrong with this film, it’s just a little too ponderous for what it’s saying and saddled with a daft ending. There may be a case for this becoming retroactively better respected after we see what Belvaux has up his sleeves for the remaining films, in which case it would probably be best viewed and reviewed on DVD anyhow. As a stand alone cinematic experience it’s a pretty decent movie, nothing more and nothing less.
On the Run gets itself a three because I’m in a grumpy mood, but it’s a strong, almost four-ish three for the majority of the film but the random daftness of the ending leaves such a sour taste in the mouth that I’m punishing it. I’m sure the director is suitably chastised and won’t make the same mistake in the next part which will open in Britain, oooh, round about next week