Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Catfight du Jour: Love Crime (2010)***1/2

Love Crime is a nifty little thriller, all about two bloodthirsty, white collar power wenches (Kristen Scott Thomas, Ludivine Sagnier), and their increasingly desperate games of one-upmanship atop a Paris skyscraper. Directed by Alain Cormeau, who has worked in a variety of genres over his lengthy career, the film takes a harrowing look at the mentor-apprentice relationship, and the complications that arise when the student outshines the teacher. 

Not surprisingly, Thomas is quite good as a master manipulator, whose thorough knowledge of the corporate game allows her to skillfully make or break her subordinates through a web of hypocrisy and shifting alliances. Sagnier, as a rising but still innocent executive star, seems willfully blind to Thomas’ machinations in the early going out of a misplaced sense of company rah-rah. As Thomas eyes a plum promotion in New York, she becomes even more willing to take credit for the work of others, especially the industrious Sagnier, and is not opposed to stooping to extortion to achieve her goals.

Love Crime then becomes a tale of slow, carefully plotted revenge, dependent on a few willing suspensions of disbelief along the way. It’s first and foremost a caper film, and those willing to play along will have their patience rewarded when the plot’s serpentine and puzzling twists are finally given context in the final reels. The film successfully straddles a thin line of rationality, and Cormeau manages to avoid any serious missteps in his delicate narrative dance. That said, there a few groan-inducing moments when Cormeau underestimates his audience. Staging a scene in America’s capital in front of a sign that says “Washington DC” is a typical redline offense, but given the plot’s complexity and dodgy foundations it’s a relief to have some elements clearly spelled out.

Now in her 30s, it appears Sagnier is not going to completely outgrow her sexy street urchin persona anytime soon. Having built her career as home wrecking jailbait, she must now carve out a new, mature niche. This role is a step in right direction, trading in her bed rumpled allure for a new found vulnerability, and Sagnier proves her skill at pulling it off. Love Crime is not a great film by any means, but it offers some strong performances in service of a B grade property. And like the best of Bs, it’s just plain fun to watch.

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