Armed Hands (Mains armees): Film Review

"Armed Hands"
French policier delivers strong performances but its hands are tied up in a convoluted plot.

Pierre Jolivet's film stars Roschdy Zem and Leila Bekhti as father-daughter cops fighting the local arms trade.

PARIS -- A hard-nosed detective and his estranged narc daughter collide, or more like brush shoulders for a while, in the underwhelming French policier, Armed Hands (Mains armees).

Starring Roschdy Zem (Point Blank) and Leila Bekhti (A Prophet) as a pere et fille facing up against Serbian arms dealers, corrupt corps and their own communication breakdown, this well-intentioned but convoluted effort from Pierre Jolivet (The Very Very Big Company) never quite gets off the ground, and its potential thrills are lost amid too much jabber and not enough suspense and emotion. Mid-July local release should be followed by Francophone fest play and ancillary, while the pitch is ripe for a Hollywood rewrite.

Indeed, the scenario (co-written with Simon Michael) has all the makings of a juicy police procedural-cum-family drama à la We Own the Night or Pride and Glory, with the added twist of a daddy-daughter mixed-race duo. But once the film’s protracted first act sets up various storylines and characters, the narrative never gains momentum and just keeps delving out plot details right and left, until culminating in a rather contrived finale.

Kicking off in Marseilles, where illegal arms investigator, Lucas Skali (Zem), and his squad of eager officers catch wind of a gun smuggling operation based in Serbia, the story soon shifts to Paris, where the team follows a trail of clues they hope will lead to the big bust. At the same time, Parisian narcotics cop, Maya (Bekhti), participates in low-level sting operations with her seedy boss (Marc Lavoine), pocketing some of the swag and trying her best to fit in with the macho gang of lawmen.

Eventually we learn that Skali is Maya’s deadbeat dad, and when he makes contact with her, it’s less to touch base than to gather intel on the Serbian connection, which has its hands in everything from assault rifles to cocaine to clementines. After that first brief meeting, the film gets mired down in the pair’s respective dealings – including a close-range shootout between Skali and a Serb that goes nowhere – with Jolivet favoring the minutiae of long-term investigations over a real emotional arc.

Even the tragic death of a young officer (Adrien Jolivet, the director’s son and co-composer of the score) is too routinely staged to yield the wallop that Armed Hands needs to carry it through the final act, where things come together in a way that never feels justified. An opening stakeout in a Marseilles parking garage has a bit more tension, but like many of the suspense sequences, it’s short-lived and episodic, more akin to a primetime cop show than to a full-fledged crime drama.

Zem and Bekhti offer up strong and compelling performances, so it’s unfortunate we don’t see more of their relationship, which seems to be the crux of the story anyway.

Widescreen cinematography by Thomas Letellier (Louise Wimmer) provides some welcome ambiance, while the score by Jolivet fils and Sacha Sieff strangely plugs itself with a series of on-screen props and shout-outs. 

Production companies: 2.4.7. Films, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Leila Bekhti, Marc Lavoine, Nicolas Bridet, Adrien Jolivet
Director: Pierre Jolivet
Screenwriters: Pierre Jolivet, Simon Michael
Producers: Marc-Antoine Robert, Xavier Rigault
Director of photography: Thomas Letellier
Production designer: Denis Sieglan
Music: Sacha Sieff, Adrien Jolivet
Costume designer: Chloe Lesueur
Editor: Jean-Francois Naudon
Sales Agent: Films Distribution
No rating, 106 minutes.

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