After launching in France in 2014 with rather disappointing numbers, Netflix has since become a major contender, with nearly 7 million subscribers at the start of the year and probably many more after a lengthy COVID lockdown this past spring.
But as far as local films released directly onto the streaming service, there’s still been a way to go, with middling first-time features like Paris Is Us and Street Flow leaving many to question whether le cinéma français could ever exist purely online.
In flies Lost Bullet (Balle perdue), which, to get things straight, is about as far from a French film by Alain Resnais, Claire Denis or any other of your favorite auteurs as Marseille is from Los Angeles. And yet, as a skillfully made and highly watchable B-grade thriller, and one that takes pride in its many stunts and practical effects, it’s probably one of the best Gallic action movies to come along in a while.
Directed by first-timer Guillaume Pierret and starring former stuntman Alban Lenoir, who’s credited as co-writer and “artistic collaborator,” Lost Bullet is the kind of film you initially dismiss based on its title, pitch and obnoxious Netflix homepage (including a bullet hole shattering half its title). But then you’re left pleasantly surprised.
Perhaps that’s because the bar has been set so low, but that wouldn’t be giving enough credit to Pierret and Lenoir, who keep things moving in fast and furiously gritty ways, with endless twists, beatings, chases, crashes and chunks of welded steel that transform average automobiles into Mad Max-style battering rams.
Again, this isn’t Hiroshima Mon Amour. It’s more like Need for Speed Mon Amour done on a modest scale, with an effectively simple plot and nonstop action scenes that find a daunting number of ways to wreck and destroy cars.
The Fast & Furious franchise also comes to mind, with Lenoir playing a mashup of Vin Diesel and Jason Statham (he looks more like the latter) in the form of a highly skilled mechanic named Lino — who, without any explanation, is also highly skilled in combat and advanced weapons handling.
At the start of the movie, Lino tries to pull off a robbery by jacking up his tiny Renault Clio and driving it straight through the window of a jewelry store. His plan backfires, or more like front-fires, when he puts too much nitro in the gas tank and speeds right into the hands of the police.
But because he’s the best mechanic around — wait, didn’t Statham actually star in a movie called … The Mechanic? — Lino gets a special deal whereby he receives work release from prison in exchange for pimping the official vehicles of the French gendarmerie so they can stop “go fast” transports along the highway.
(If you’re unfamiliar with go fasts, they consist of going very fast in a car filled with drugs in order to outrun the police. The phenomenon has spawned a subgenre of mostly mediocre French flicks, including Fast Convoy and, well, Go Fast.)
Lino’s new job is quickly compromised when his well-meaning boss, Charas (Ramzy Bedia), is murdered by fellow officer Areski (Nicolas Duvauchelle), leaving him and his sidekick (Rod Paradot) in limbo. From there it’s off to the races, although the races already started during the opening credits, as Lino has to track down the lost bullet of the title in order to prove his innocence.
No doubt the film’s pièce de résistance is a bone-crunchingly hilarious standoff between Lino and a dozen-odd cops that takes place at the precinct shortly after he’s arrested on the run. Beginning in an interrogation room, the scene quickly spirals into something like The Raid meets Drunken Master meets Taken (for which Lenoir received one of his first stunt credits), with Lino using his bare hands, lots of metal chairs and even a computer keyboard to take out the entire police department.
You can tell that Pierret and his team worked hard to get such sequences, plus all the car chases (basically half the movie), as right as possible, and their labor prevails despite a plot that hardly gives you the time to stop and consider some of its preposterousness.
Lenoir, whose face is never without a fresh contusion, does impressive triple duty as star, stuntman and scriptwriter, proving to be France’s most exciting new action hero. (To be honest, he doesn’t have any competition at the moment.) He’s joined by a supporting cast that fares decently, grunting out all the expletive-laden dialogue while drenched in blood, sweat and a sizable amount of genre clichés.
Craft contributions are the film’s other major asset, with cinematographer Morgan S. Dalibert, production designer Nicolas Flipo and stunt coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez making due with a purportedly low budget — surely a drop in the bucket for Netflix France, but one that’s finally managed to pay off.
Production companies: Versus Production
Cast: Alban Lenoir, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Ramzy Bedia, Stéfi Celma, Rod Paradot, Sébastien Lalanne, Pascale Arbillot
Director: Guillaume Pierret
Screenwriters: Guillaume Pierret, Alban Lenoir, Kamel Guemra
Producers: Jacques-Henri Bronckart
Executive producers: Mathieu Ageron, Maxime Delauney, Romain Rousseau, Rémi Leautier
Director of photography: Morgan S. Dalibert
Production designer: Nicolas Flipo
Costume designer: Véronique Gely
Editor: Sophie Fourdrinoy
Composer: André Dziezuk