Brotherhood of Tears (La Confrerie des larmes): Film Review

"Brotherhood of Tears"
A somewhat diverting genre exercise that loses it in the final reels.

Jeremie Renier ("The Child") stars in Jean-Baptiste Andrea's high-concept thriller.

PARIS – “Whatever you do, don’t open the briefcase” are the ominously cliched instructions guiding the protagonist -- and much of the plot -- of the high-concept French thriller Brotherhood of Tears (La Confrerie des larmes). Yet while filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Andrea is hardly treading new ground in this classic good guy-wrong-place scenario, he manages to keep things relatively engaging, tossing out lots of twists and red herrings until things fly off the rails during an inevitably silly third-act reveal. Francophone slots and VOD action await this mid-sized European co-production, with possible overseas interest among genre specialists.

Despite what many will consider a bogus and only-in-France kind of conclusion, the director and co-writer Gael Malry smartly keep their MacGuffin under wraps until late in the game, focusing mostly on the tribulations of former Paris detective Chevalier (Jeremie Renier), whose mounting gambling debts and failure to hold down a job send him on nightly fits of binge drinking. He’s also got a pesky tweenage daughter (Melusine Mayance) who gives him hell for being such a deadbeat dad, even if his mess of a life is shown to be less the result of choice than of circumstance.

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Just when it looks like Chevalier is headed straight for the gutter, an opportunity pops up in the form of an anonymous, extremely well-paid job, which, at least at first, consists of merely sitting for eight hours a day in an empty office. Thrilled to be cashing in on such an easy gig, the ex-cop goes on shopping sprees, buys a Porsche and gets a makeover -- behavior that seems all-too naive for someone who’s clearly been through the ringer many times.

Finally the real work begins when Chevalier is asked to deliver a set of mysterious briefcases to various clients across the globe. The only rule: never, ever open them. Yet anyone who’s seen films like Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly or even Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction knows that the temptation is always too strong, and as Chevalier grows increasingly nosy about his employment, the bodies start piling up around him until things eventually come to a head in ways that are both surprising and downright ridiculous.

For at least the first hour, Andrea -- who directed the 2006 David Schwimmer-Simon Pegg starrer Big Nothing -- reveals a certain knack for building suspense out of a few basic elements, as cheesy as some of them might be. And as long as the guessing game is on, Brotherhood of Tears provides some light thrills despite much heavy-handedness, especially in scenes involving Chevalier and his daughter, not to mention the budding romance he has with a cop (Audrey Fleurot) who happens to be his biggest fan.

It’s like an Alfred Hitchcock movie with neither the penetrating humor nor the formidable craft, which basically leaves a plot that works up to a certain point and a main character who tends to feel more like a cog in the machine than a real person -- even if Dardennes brothers regular Renier (The Kid with a Bike) deserves points for a cagey performance that never discredits the material.

Budgeted at €7M ($9.5M), the film makes fine use of its multiple locations, hopping around between Turkey, Belgium and France, with DP Jean-Pierre Sauvaire (Taxi) giving the action a gritty and handheld sheen. A busy score by Laurent Perez del Mar (Zarafa) takes its cues from John Powell’s theme for The Bourne Identity, although Brotherhood is far from that kind of franchise and more like a mildly entertaining one-off whose staying power lasts as long as the end credits.

Opens: Wednesday, Oct. 9 (in France)

Production companies: Full House, Red Lion, Saga City, D8 Films, uFilm

Cast: Jeremie Renier, Audrey Fleurot, Melusine Mayance, Bouli Lanners

Director: Jean-Baptiste Andrea

Screenwriters: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Gael Malry

Producers: Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri, Gael Nouaille

Director of photography: Jean-Pierre Sauvaire

Production designer: Christina Schaffer

Costume designer: Nathalie Leborgne

Music: Laurent Perez del Mar

Editor: Antoine Vareille

Sales agent: Films Distribution

No rating, 99 minutes

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