UK Release Date: 10th September 2018
Runtime: 127 minutes
Director: Michaël R Roskam
Writer: Michaël R Roskam, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric De Staercke, Jean-Benoît Ugeux, Nabil Missoumi, Nathalie Van Tongelen
Synopsis: A racing driver forms a relationship with a mysterious man, while remaining unaware that he is a brutal gangster carrying out armed robberies.
A few years ago, Belgian director Michaël R Roskam announced himself to Hollywood with thriller The Drop, a few years after wowing festival crowds with Bullhead. The Drop is a terrific little movie, notable for featuring a great Tom Hardy turn and James Gandolfini‘s final performance on the big screen. His latest project has taken him back to his native Belgium for Racer and the Jailbird, which is a wild and unruly crime thriller that has a solid pair of leading performances, but also boasts a bloated plot that swallows them both whole.
Those two stars are the spell check favourites Matthias Schoenaerts and Adèle Exarchopoulos. The latter is a professional racing driver, known as Bibi, while Schoenaerts is the mysterious Gino – a fella who claims to work in the vehicular import-export business. He soon woos her and calmly states that his biggest secret is “I’m a gangster, I rob banks”, which Bibi takes as a joke. As anyone who has ever seen a crime movie – and recognises the Bonnie and Clyde nod – knows, it’s no joke.
There’s a palpable, fizzing romantic chemistry between Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos as their relationship develops from lusty and passionate to tender and committed. They’re soon engaged, with the consent of Bibi’s father, who in a very nicely played scene agrees to the marriage despite the fact he has seen right through Gino. He advises that Gino stop his criminal line of work, but remarks that he seems like a faithful type – indeed the film’s French title Le Fidèle translates as ‘The Faithful’. Soon, Gino is lining up that old movie staple of ‘one last job’, but things inevitably go arse-over-tit and the burgeoning relationship is threatened.
It’s after the heist goes wrong that Roskam’s movie entirely skids off the track and slams through a wall of narrative tyres. No amount of emoting by Exarchopoulos or brooding by Schoenaerts can disguise the muddled string of revelations and descent into soapland that plagues the movie’s second half. For all that it does right on the performance side of things, it also struggles to pay off key themes. For example, a running thread about Gino’s fear of dogs fails to get a proper pay-off, though the inclusion of bedraggled canines is a welcome nod back to The Drop.
Racer and the Jailbird suffers from a lack of confidence in its own structure. Chapter headings appear periodically as if heralding a change of perspective, but this never really reshapes the way the story is told, which might have handed some freshness to the rather stagnant storytelling approach. At just over two hours, it’s a bloated meal and one that doesn’t go down very easily.
Slim pickings here. Just interviews with Roskam, Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos.
Pop or Poop?
Michaël R Roskam’s Racer and the Jailbird is a graveyard of missed potential, with two tremendous leading performances basically left to stagnate in the wake of a plot that is more interested in piling on contrivances than letting them act. It’s overlong and moves with all of the grace of an intoxicated elephant, lumbering towards a finale that leaves no emotional mark behind.
Racer and the Jailbird is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing.
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