Crime doesn’t always pay, though at least it pays more than the minimum wage. That’s one of the lessons to be culled from Odd Job (Un Petit Boulot), a darkly comic French caper about a two-time loser who finds gainful employment as a hitman.
Directed by the late Pascal Chaumeil, whose flashy and clever rom-com Heartbreaker was a breakout hit in 2010, this low-key thriller is more of a character study than an action-packed affair, yet has plenty of heart and a subtext that channels current Gallic economic woes. With Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) in the lead role and writer/co-star Michel Blanc (The Minister) as his nefarious benefactor, the film opened strong locally and should play well across Francophonia. Overseas pickups and remake deals are not out of the question.
In a dreary part of northern France where the factories have all closed and the men spend more time at the bar than at home, the unemployed, unshaven Jacques (Duris) can only land a menial job at a gas station managed by his old friend, Tom (Gustave Kervern). With his girlfriend gone and most of his belongings sold off, Jacques has very little to look forward to until he crosses paths with Gardot (Blanc), a local crime boss who proposes him 20,000 euros to knock off his significantly younger wife.
After only a bit of reflection, Jacques decides to accept Gardot’s offer, though the scene where he does the deed is filled with both moral quandaries and Coen-esque black comedy. It’s as if fate is pushing a good man in a bad direction, with Jacques growing even more trigger-happy when a sadistic corporate inspector (Alex Lutz) threatens to fire him from his regular job. At that point, the blue-collar worker takes fitful revenge over a member of the managerial class, though the second murder winds up having repercussions that will resound throughout the rest of the film.
Adapted by Blanc from a book by Scottish-American writer Iain Levison, Odd Job works best when depicting the small-town intrigues that Jacques gradually gets tangled up in, surrounding our hero with a weatherworn cast of friends and creeps who populate the industrial wastelands between France and Belgium. While there’s enough to chew on in terms of character, the suspense does start to wane during a third act that switches gears to chronicle Jacques’ burgeoning love affair with a cop (Alice Belaidi), leading towards a finale that ends less with a bang than with a warm embrace.
But perhaps that’s what Chaumeil – who died of cancer at the age of 54 – preferred for his final movie, bringing back Heartbreaker star Duris to play another sort of conman this time, in a performance that combines deadpan humor with an undertone of depression. Not unlike Walter White, Jacques only seems to get his groove back when he turns to crime, and the delight Duris takes in such a role manifests itself in the wicked flicker that occasionally pops up in his character’s eyes. Kervern and Blanc are both perfectly cast as a loser and a winner, respectively, while Belgian actor Charlie Dupont is also memorable as a lowly crook with very little luck.
Like the director’s previous works, Odd Job is handsomely put together, with cinematographer Manuel Dacosse (Evolution) capturing the rain-soaked landscapes in muted colors and plenty of shadows. Music by Mathieu Lamboley (Lolo) maintains a playful tone for a film that earnestly tries to make light of these dark times.
Production companies: Gaumont, Scope Pictures
Cast: Romain Duris, Michel Blanc, Alice Belaidi, Gustave Kervern, Charlie Dupont, Alex Lutz
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Screenwriter: Michel Blanc, adapted from the novel “Un Petit Boulot” by Iain Levison
Producer: Sidonie Dumas
Director of photography: Manuel Dacosse
Production designer: Noelle Van Parys
Costume designer: Bethasbee Dreyfus
Editor: Sylvie Landra
Composer: Mathieu Lamboley
Casting directors: Michael Bier, Patrick Hella