Mea Culpa: Film Review

B-level thriller has Grade A quality.

Vincent Lindon (“Welcome”) and Gilles Lellouche (“Gibraltar”) star in this latest action-thriller from French director Fred Cavaye.

French action maestro Fred Cavaye delivers another combo punch of kinetic thrills and schlocky storytelling in Mea Culpa, the third in a series of race-against-the-clock suspensers following Point Blank and his debut, For Her (remade Stateside as The Next Three Days). Pretty much one long, credibility-stretching chase from start to finish, but with several impressive set-pieces and plenty of directorial ingenuity, this €20M ($27M) Gaumont-backed shooter should score a sizeable audience for its Feb 5th local release, while Fox has already picked up distribution rights for the U.S.

Starring Vincent Lindon and Gilles Lellouche -- who respectively toplined Cavaye’s two previous efforts -- as a former cop and punch-drunk detective teaming up against a clan of bald, bearded and leather-clad mobsters, the film is your classic good guys vs. bad guys 80’s-style actioner, but with the fights and shootouts turned up several notches while the pace never lets up for all of 90 minutes.

A somewhat impressionistic opening presents several characters and time periods, first introducing us to Simon (Lindon), an armored car driver estranged from his wife, Alice (Nadine Labaki), and son, Theo (Max Baissette de Malglaive), for reasons we’ll learn about later on. Meanwhile, a gang of drug dealers has been on a shooting spree throughout the streets of Toulon, and although Simon’s ex-partner, Franck (Lellouche), is on their tail, they’ve been taking out victims left and right.

All of this is set-up for a first act closer during which Theo -- in a coincidence that strains plausibility to the max -- witnesses the gangsters executing someone in the bathroom of a bull fighting ring. While that scene seems downright dubious, the next one, during which Theo outruns a scooter before his dad steps in to the rescue, is as flawlessly executed as it is both unrealistic and over-the-top, as if Steven Seagal could step into the shot at any moment.

But Cavaye (who co-wrote the script with Guillaume Lemans) has always been less concerned with making things believable than with rendering them fast, gritty and violent, and to that extent, Mea Culpa is probably his best film yet. Moving at breakneck pace from one set-piece to another, we follow Simon and Franck as they double-handedly take on the baddies in a nightclub shootout, a foot chase across several warehouses and ultimately, in a thrilling TGV pursuit that simultaneously brings together three plains of action, trying to one-up The French Connection on a high-speed train.

Working with cinematographer Danny Elsen (Paris Countdown) and regular editor Benjamin Weill (Our Day Will Come), the director painstakingly creates a series of action scenes that are both artful and understandable, never indulging in over-cutting and CGI while introducing sly bits of visual humor, especially in an early parking lot sequence and a latter one set in a hospital that makes hilarious use of an intravenous drip.

Spending much of the film punching, sweating and spitting up blood, Lindon and Lellouche are just fine as a pair of thuggish heroes, although they’re more convincing when they’re on the run than when they slow down to hit a few requisite emotional notes that feel phony from the get-go.

Accompanying the nonstop mayhem is a score by ace composer Cliff Martinez (Drive, Contagion) that thunders along to the movie’s explosive finish line.

Production companies: LGM Cinema, Gaumont, TF1 Films Produciton, KR Productions, Bad Company, Nexus Factory, uMedia

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Gilles Lellouche, Nadie Labaki, Gilles Cohen, Max Baissette de Malglaive

Director: Fred Cavaye

Screenwriters: Fred Cavaye, Guillaume Lemans, based on an original idea by Olivier Marchal

Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Sidonie Dumas

Executive producer: David Giordano

Director of photography: Danny Elsen

Production designer: Philippe Chiffre

Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson

Editor: Benjamin Weill

Music: Cliff Martinez

Sales agent: Gaumont

No rating, 90 minutes