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A 1970s-set serial killer chronicle where cop and assassin turn out to be the very same person, Cedric Anger’s stylish thriller Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart (La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur) offers up a strong central turn from Guillaume Canet while dishing out a number of crafty and suspenseful set-pieces. But it can also be too self-serious at times and winds up dragging a bit in its latter stages, making for a gripping if not altogether satisfying French Zodiac that could drum up interest abroad following an early November local release.
Former Cahiers du cinema critic Anger has directed two other genre pieces (The Killer, The Lawyer) while also penning the script for Andre Techine’s true-story drama, In the Name of My Daughter. So he’s clearly in his element with this ripped-from-the-headlines period piece, based on the real case of Alain Lamare, aka “the Oise killer” – a man who terrified a region north of Paris in the winter of 1978-79 when he gunned down several young women, all the while working as a gendarme (state police officer) responsible for tracking the murderer.
Crazy but mostly true, Anger’s screenplay follows the maniac cop – renamed Franck (Canet) – from his first assault on a girl riding her scooter alone at night, through several other attacks on female hitchhikers, and on through his gradual fall as his fellow lawmen realize that the culprit may be inside their own department. In between, Franck begins an affair with his gorgeous but troubled cleaning lady, Sophie (Ana Girardot), while engaging in all sorts of creepy serial killer behavior, such as self-flagellation with a pile of reeds, wrapping his arm in barbed wire or plunging himself into an ice bath.
Some of these antics feel predictable, as do the jarring visions he begins having of worms festering in the mud – although one sequence where Franck attempts to visit a prostitute, only to wind up in the lap of a 70-year-old man (Michel Cassagne) and Frank Borzage lover, is so outright weird that it’s almost hilarious. Otherwise, the story tends to lose wind as the noose gets tighter around Franck’s neck, and he’s certainly a hard guy to make any real emotional connection with, even if we’re sort of hoping he might get away with everything while simultaneously feeling horrible about it.
Revealing a higher level of craftsmanship than before, Anger gets all he can out of the various assault sequences, including a bravura opening that recalls the above-cited David Fincher movie, while the grim small-town setting makes one think of Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners – with which this film shares a certain gloomy heavy-handedness, especially in Gregoire Hetzel’s overused swelling score. Fog-filled widescreen cinematography by Thomas Hardmeier (Yves Saint Laurent) and spare production design by Thierry Francois (Bird People) also help contribute to an underlying mood of quiet desperation, in a place where the sun doesn’t seem to come out for the entire winter.
Once again showcasing impressive acting skills, Canet (Tell No One) tries to downplay Franck’s madness despite the man’s obvious insanity from early on. He’s especially convincing in a few scenes where the gendarme has to investigate his own murders, holding up a facial composite that looks exactly like he does, down to the spooky Ted Bundy hairdo. Rising star Girardot (High Society) is also strong as a local beauty with perhaps the worst taste in men in French history, leaving behind her comatose, syphilis-stricken husband for Franck, only to realize that her new beau may be totally off his rocker.
Well-chosen tracks from the epoch include Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and The Velvet Underground’s entirely appropriate “The Black Angel’s Death Song.”
Production companies: Sunrise Films, Les Productions du Tresor, Mars Films, Caneo Films
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Ana Girardot, Jean-Yves Bertheloot, Patrick Azam, Arnaud Henriet
Director: Cedric Anger
Screenwriter: Cedric Anger, based on the book “Un assassin au-dessus de tout soupcon” by Yvan Stefanovitch, in collaboration with Martine Laroche
Producers: Anne Rapczyk, Alain Attal
Director of photography: Thomas Hardmeier
Production designer: Thierry Francois
Costume designer: Jurgen Doering
Editor: Julien Leloup
Composer: Gregoire Hetzel
Casting director: Nicolas Ronchi
Sales agent: Kinology
No rating, 111 minutes
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