First and foremost, any film with Francois Cluzet is worth a look. He is a fine movie actor from the top drawer -a Dustin Hoffman without the verbiage. His performances over the years genuinely grow in authenticity as he straddles each fluctuating zeitgeist. He represents us, the ordinary man or woman absorbing the pressure of a given circumstance until he breaks and is forced to act.
Here he plays Duval, a fastidious accountant who handles stress by drinking, an affliction brilliantly established in the opening sequence. Asked to deliver a report overnight he sets about furiously searching and collating data, to be found the next morning by cleaners, asleep in an office resembling a bombsight yet his files for the report are immaculately laid out. Job done.
We pick the story up two years later. The stress levels and the alcohol drinking see him now unemployed and attending regular AA meetings. Whilst attending a funeral he accidentally comes into contact with an old colleague who has become a success with companies opening in various countries around the world. He feels sorry for Duval and gives him his card, which leads to an illicit offer seemingly emanating from the Ministry of National Security. His job interview with a shady operative called Mr. Clement opens with the question, “Do you love your country?”.
The offer of a temporary well paid job transcribing telephone recordings is too good an opportunity to spurn and Duval is sent to an empty apartment furnished with only a table, chair, cassette player and a typewriter in a rundown housing estate. He soon falls into a rhythm- “It’s mechanical”, he says later on -each day typing mundane telephone conversations from unknown people.
We get the first evidence all is not well when a recording ends abruptly with an apparent assault, later confirmed as murder when Duval sees the heading of a newspaper citing the slaying of a senior political figure, a name he’d been hearing on the tapes. Soon after, an employee of Clement arrives to read the transcripts and manages to coerce Duval into accompanying him to retrieve a missing diary which had been talked about in the transcripts.
However during an attempted break-in, a caretaker is killed and a witness places Duval at the scene. Duval attempts to resign his job but discovers that Clement, the man who employed him doesn’t actually exist. The office is uninhabited. He becomes the number one suspect for a murder he didn’t commit and simultaneously the target for shady agents who fear he knows too much.
As events unfold, Duval is picked up by the police and presented with CCTV evidence placing him at the scene of the murder. He comes clean to the head of the Security Police, and also reveals that his interrogator, General Lagarth, earnestly played by Sami Bouajila, is also being bugged. Lagarth orders Duval to continue with his illicit work but he now wants copies of each transcript. Duvall is now effectively working for two employers.
Later, when a female member of his AA group whom he is supporting through addiction is kidnapped from his apartment, Duval realises that his natural tendency to keep control and order is out of control. Fearing her life may be in danger he frantically tracks down his old corporate colleague and is told in no uncertain terms to grow up, this is the way of the world. It is a moment of reckoning. Duval agrees to become the bait in a battle between opposing corporate political figures.
There was something of the yesteryear about this film. It wouldn't have been out of place, had it been produced in the sixties, a film such as Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest springs to mind. But where the two, nearly sixty years apart diverge, is a tendency in the current to entertain a resolution that tiptoes on the line between creative licence and plausibility.
The set up of the story is more or less perfect, with edgy and pacy scenes that become more and more tense as Duval’s predicament unravels. Yet as we get into the minutiae of the plot it does become apparent that the script by Yann Gozlan needed a little more flesh on the bone to fill out and justify intricacies of Duval’s choices, particularly as we get to the narrative resolution.
First time director Thomas Kruithof delivers a credible and enjoyable thriller set during the machinations of a forthcoming political election. It’s topicality highlights the high stakes surrounding corporate access into the political machinery of government; the lobby groups who release data at just the right time to influence an unwitting public. An example is the FBI’s erratic handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigations and how this may or may not have lost her the presidency. In Scribe, it’s a hostage release negotiation at stake which demonstrates the cutthroat nature of politics and how easily innocent individuals can become ensnared in much larger plots of which they know nothing. Alexandre Lamarque’s photography is stylish and unobtrusive in a thought-provoking and enthralling, cinematic ride only slightly let down by an overly simplistic ending, but nonetheless, well worth seeing.
by Mark Norfolk.
Official Trailer: https://youtu.be/6u_2lBB1Y5c
SCRIBE is in UK cinemas and on demand from 21st July.