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From Rififi to The Red Circle to the seldom seen Mélodie en sous-sol, the French used to make some of the best heist movies around. While that hasn’t been the case for a long while, writer-director Eric Barbier’s latest robbery riff, The Last Diamond (Le Dernier diamant), represents a worthy attempt to revive the genre in Gaul. Featuring strong performances by stars Yvan Attal (Rapt) and Berenice Bejo (The Artist), this classically helmed caper is neither groundbreaking nor entirely convincing, but offers up enough hooks to keep things alive through the final reel. A pre-Cannes release on home turf should see a modest box office steal, while Diamond may be slick enough to score offshore sales, not to mention a potential Stateside remake.
Conniving professional safecracker, Simon (Attal), is currently out of jail on parole, which doesn’t stop him from engaging in some low-level larceny along with his favorite partner-in-crime, Albert (Jean-Francois Stevenin). When the latter gets them on a major job trying to swipe the legendary Florentine diamond — valued in the film at €40 million ($55 million), although in real life it went missing during WWI and has never been found — Simon uses his thieving skills to seduce the beautiful Julia (Bejo), who’s been put in charge of the jewel’s auction following her mother’s mysterious death.
Like many a solid heist flick, this one spends a good portion of its early and mid-sections setting things up for the big day, with co-writers Barbier, Tran-Minh Nam and Marie Eynard throwing in plenty of bogies as Simon heads to Antwerp and swindles Julia into an affair. While the unlikely lovebirds are never quite believable on screen, their relationship provides some of the film’s more memorable scenes, including one where Simon has to steal a key from Julia’s hotel room and winds up in between her sheets.
Rather than saving the final robbery for the third act, Barbier stages it earlier on, with Simon and his cohorts — including his ultra-shady boss, Scylla (Antoine Basler) — laying their hands on the precious stone as Julia realizes she’s been had from the get-go. It’s at this point that Diamond veers away from convention and provides a few unexpected late twists, although everything winds up coming down to a love story between thief and fall-girl that never works in the way of say, the original The Thomas Crown Affair, or else the many George Clooney–Julia Roberts tiffs of Ocean’s 11.
This isn’t to say that Attal and Bejo aren’t strong in their respective roles, and the former is especially good as a hardnosed criminal who finds himself blindsided by romance. But their characters are never given enough time to develop amid lots of plot mechanics, and once all the double-crossings and false leads are used up, what’s left is a movie as shiny, sparkly and translucent as the Florentine itself.
Like in his stylized 2006 thriller, The Serpent (also starring Attal), Barbier provides an extremely polished sheen to the proceedings, with cinematographer Denis Rouden (36th Precinct) using a warm and moody color palette to capture locations in France, Belgium and Luxembourg (unlike many co-productions, this one at least finds legitimate excuses for all the border crossings). Renaud Barbier provides a whimsical jazzy score for a crime that’s never meant to be taken too seriously.
Opens: Wednesday, April 30th (in France)
Production companies: Vertigo Productions, Scope Pictures, Bidibul Pictures, CN3 Productions
Cast: Yvan Attal, Berenice Bejo, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Antoine Basler, Jacques Spiesser
Director: Eric Barbier
Screenwriters: Eric Barbier, Tran-Minh Nam, Marie Eynard
Producers: Farid Lahouassa, Aissa Djabri
Executive producer: Denis Penot
Director of photography: Denis Rouden
Production designer: Pierre Renson
Costume designer: Uli Simon
Editor: Jennifer Auge
Music: Renaud Barbier
Sales agent: Other Angle Pictures
No rating, 109 minutes
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