Early One Morning (De Bon Matin): Film Review

This convincing portrayal of the downfall of a Paris banker makes a riveting drama.

Writer-director Jean-Marc Moutout's intense drama is a French counterpart to Joel Schumacher's Falling Down, about a man who realizes that his life's work is based on a false premise.

PARIS — It would be easy to mistake Jean-Marc Moutout's Early One Morning for another tract denouncing the evils of financial capitalism as revealed by the 2008 subprimes fiasco and subsequent disasters. It is a great deal more than that. Conceived well before the Lehmann collapse and the advent of toxic assets, the movie is a subtle portrayal of the psychological breakdown that occurs when a man realizes that his entire life's work has been based on a false premise.

Its banker protagonist, brilliantly played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin, is a Gallic counterpart to the Michael Douglas character in Joel Schumacher's Falling Down (1993), and a long plunging shot shortly before the denouement may or may not be a nod of acknowledgement to the earlier film. Wholly original, Moutout's unsparing view of a man in crisis deserves a wide audience, though outside its home territory it will probably play mainly to art-house regulars.

Early one morning, Paul (Darroussin), a senior executive at an investment bank, walks into an office and shoots his superior and a passing colleague dead. He then locks himself in his own office and waits. And as he waits, he goes back in his mind over the events that have brought him to this point. The story is told in flashback with occasional returns to the present.

If the strains inherent in the job have been building up years, it's the arrival of a new boss, Alain Fisher (Xavier Beauvois, better known as the director of Of Gods and Men), which triggers the collapse. Fisher represents a new breed of banker — abrasive, ruthless and utterly unprincipled. Paul increasingly finds himself sidelined. He's a good family man, but tells his wife (Valérie Dréville) and son nothing of his inner turmoil. In one of two key confessional scenes, he tells his therapist: "What I used to think of as success is now seen as failure. I no longer know who I am."

Darroussin, on screen throughout, has built a career playing the ordinary Joe with just the hint of a screw loose, and here he is perfect. His face is a mask, but one through which signals of distress are constantly threatening to erupt. Often he is silent, and indeed silence plays a key role in the movie, as in the long pan across the faces of his colleagues that closes the film. Based on a true story and tautly directed, the movie is a convincing account of a decent man brought to the end of his tether. It maintains its grip from start to finish.

Opens: In France Oct. 5
Production companies: Les Films du Losange, Need Productions
Cast: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Valérie Dréville, Xavier Beauvois, Yannick Renier, Laurent Delbecque, Frédéric Leidgens
Director: Jean-Marc Moutout
Writers: Jean-Marc Moutout, Olivier Gorce, Sophie Fillières
Producers: Margaret Menegoz, Régine Vial
Photography: Pierric Gantelmi d'Ille
Production design: Jérôme Pouvaret
Editor: Marie Da Costa
Sales: Les Films du Losange
No rating, 91 minutes