Film Review – The Prey (La Proie)
Inside almost every French action film is a standard set of genre parameters that helps define these movies as distinctly being French Action Films. There is of course always a set of parameters, or conventions, that make up a genre. The action film alone has its own, but a French action film, along with those of Hong Kong and Korea, has a set of conventions that are distinctly a part of their culture. In French action films—which are billed as such, but usually come closer to America’s idea of the thriller than action—is the archetype of the main character as the Fool. Goddard so eloquently utilized the character of the fool in his 1965 crime comedy Perroit le Fou, and it seems that has more or less become the standard for leading protagonists.
Another convention so repeatedly applied to the genre is the James Cameron situation, where you take a bad situation and compound it with several other bad situations that stack up until the thing either collapses under its own weight, or it requires four or more acts to sort it all out. Somehow The Prey falls somewhere in between these two scenarios. It neither collapses completely under itself, nor does it employ the James Cameron ethic of “now we need three endings.” To get there, though, it’s going to need to teeter a bit from inventive and tightly wound to cutting major corners and employing deus ex machinas like they’re going out of style. The story starts off with the fool in jail. Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) is serving time for a bank robbery, only he was caught after he had the chance to stash the takeaway. Now in prison he’s being hounded by everyone from his partner, who he was arrested with, to a group of Russians who just seem to want to harm him. Franck’s partner doesn’t trust him and wants to know where he stashed the cash before Franck gets out of prison, and Franck’s wife is also asking for its whereabouts. Everything is truncated, though, by Franck’s cell mate, Maurel (Stephane Debac), a seemingly quiet and unassuming man who, it turns out, was wrongly accused of harming a young girl and is set free early.
On the outside, Maurel promises to look after Franck’s wife and daughter, but as soon as he is released Franck is visited in prison by an ex-detective looking for clues to a serial killer he believes is Maurel. After that, Franck decides prison has nothing more to offer him and sets out to escape, and get to his family before Maurel does. The first act of this film is fun. It has several really well done, brutal fights that showcase how much of a badass Franck is, and sets up the film’s scenario in an evenly presented, yet straight-to-the-chase kind of way. Before you know it, we are up and running with what I thought was going to be a long, drawn-out plot of overwrought suspense, but maybe that’s more American thrillers. Instead, this starts off with a Walter Hill style of matter-of-fact information and a need to get down to it when it comes to the pornography of stunts and death-defying leaps that feel straight out of the Fast & Furious franchise.
Unfortunately, once the second act sets in and the plot threads begin to coincide, there’s a layering of bad scenario after bad scenario that does as previously mentioned, and threatens to collapse in on itself from the weight. What ends up saving the movie from collapsing (as well as additions of acts to its postscript) is the intervention of God—or, as storytellers like to call it, the deus ex machina. By the end of the second act, the movie is readily employing coincidence scenarios to keep itself going, especially once the filmmakers realize the corners they painted themselves into in that second act of ratcheting problem after problem onto itself. The biggest fallacy is that the film would literally have nowhere to go if it weren’t for two characters randomly being in the same place at the same time, neither for any reason that should purposely put them there. It’s a might bit problematic for a story that started out weaving its elements around itself like a well-fitting jacket. This, however, is a problem that for me is not isolated to this film, but something that has become a trend in French action films over the last decade or more, with most of them centering around some form of a chase—even the Die Hard-esque Sleepless Night (2011).
For as many problems as the film ends up adopting by its end, it doesn’t exceed a limit of being so problematic that it’s not enjoyable or worth watching. Albert Dupontel is fun to watch as an aging badass with no real character motivations outside of his family, and Alice Taglioni turns in a particularly good performance as the agent assigned to tracking Franck down, a la Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, which coincidentally is what about one-third of the story is attempting to emulate: innocent man on the run trying to prove his worth and a determined cop who doesn’t care about motivations, only seeing the job through to the end. The film ends up taking many liberties with the villain, whose serial killer personality is apparently positioned to kill anyone at will, and with the help of his girlfriend. It’s all a bit fantastical and adds up to a rather mixed experience of a movie.
Final Grade: C+