‘Stop Me Here’ (‘Arretez-moi la’): Film Review

Courtesy of EuropaCorp
A shaky wrong-man thriller with a steady lead turn.

Reda Kateb ('Zero Dark Thirty,' 'Hippocrates') stars in Gilles Bannier's feature debut.

A kindhearted taxi driver has his life rear-ended after being falsely accused of a kidnapping in Stop Me Here (Arretez-moi la), director Gilles Bannier’s intriguing if unconvincing French procedural. Starring Reda Kateb as a nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time — and saddled with one of the worst lawyers in movie history — the film has its moments of interest but never convinces as either an outright thriller or a nuanced drama. With EuropaCorp releasing locally and selling worldwide, it should reach a modest audience while opening up some remake potential abroad.

Based on Iain Levison’s novel The Cab Driver (which was inspired by the real-life abduction of Elizabeth Smart), the story follows the wholly innocent Samson Cazalet (Ketab), a 30-something cabbie first seen delivering groceries to his elderly neighbor in what may be one of the most obvious exposition sequences in recent memory. He then heads off for an evening of work, picking up an attractive perfume expert, Louise (Lea Drucker), at the airport and dropping her at a house in the suburbs of Nice.

The next day, Samson is apprehended by a pair of Keystone cops (Luc-Antoine Diqueiro and Quentin Baillot), who, after giving him the run around, explain that he’s the prime suspect in the kidnapping of Louise’s 10-year-old daughter (Themis Pauwels). Of course both we and Samson know that he’s fully innocent, but the cards seem to be stacked against him (he left fingerprints in Louise’s bathroom; he suspiciously cleaned his cab the night of the crime), while his staggeringly incompetent state-appointed attorney (Gilles Cohen) only seems to make things worse at trial time.

If the film’s first half offers up a certain level of suspense, leaving us wondering how Samson will get out of such a quagmire, the latter sections lack any real narrative momentum, with one major plot point (involving a post-trial lawsuit) never tied up. Shifting between legal thriller, character study and love story, Bannier and co-writer Nathalie Hertzberg can’t seem to decide which way they want to go and their upbeat conclusion feels particularly forced and shallow. (For more credible examples of French wrong-man films, see Vincent Garenq’s Guilty and Roschdy Zem’s Omar Killed Me.)

Despite the underworked scenario, Kateb — a terrific Franco-Algerian actor who broke through in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet — invests Samson with enough gravitas to make his plight watchable, transforming him from a confused semi-loner to a man who’s been too screwed by the system to care. (The pic may have played better had there been some doubt as to Samson’s innocence.) Yet while Kateb’s performance partially saves the day, the other actors — especially those portraying various inept members of the French judicial establishment — often come across as caricatures who would never hold the jobs they've been assigned to.

Bannier has had more experience directing TV shows than movies, and Stop Me Here tends to feel closer to an elevated telefilm than to something inspired by Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, which remains the greatest example of the genre. Cinematography by Dardennes regular Alain Marcoen manages to capture the grittier side of the French Riviera, yet never provides the kind of nail-biting cinematic moments that such a story needs.

Production companies: Legato Films, Nexus Factory, Umedia
Cast: Reda Kateb, Lea Drucker, Gilles Cohen, Erika Sainte
Director: Gilles Bannier
Screenwriters: Gilles Bannier, Nathalie Hertzberg, based on the book
The Cab Driver by Iain Levison
Producers: Anne Derre, Agathe Berman
Director of photography: Alain Marcoen
Production designer: Philippe Van Herwijnen
Costume designer: Laure Villemer
Editor: Peggy Koretzky
Composers: Siegfried Canto, Herve Salters
Casting director: Justine Heynemann
Sales agent: EuropaCorp

In French
Not rated, 94 minutes

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