Review: “Love Crime”

1. When Alain Corneau, the director of "Love Crime," died just more than a year ago, French president Nicolas Sarkozy felt compelled to release a statement. That's quite a career. I was trying to think of what level a filmmaker would have to reach to get President Obama to release a statement on his or her death. (For the sake of comparison, the President did not chime in on Elizabeth Taylor's death, though the Clintons did.) Clint Eastwood? Maybe. Steven Spielberg? Yeah, I'd think so. That's probably it, though. Martin Scorsese might get a mention by the Prez, but only if he'd jumped in front of a bullet for somebody, and then likely only if it had been meant for a Democrat.

2. I'm getting hung up on Sarkozy's statement not just because he said it, but because of what he said. From The New York Times obituary: "Corneau pursued an unceasing investigation into what makes humans human," Sakrozy said. I've only seen one other Corneau film other than "Love Crime" -- "Tous les matins du monde," an unconventional biopic of composer Marin Marais -- and I will say that if Corneau's mission as a filmmaker was to "investigate what makes humans human," France is a heckuva lot less fun place than I think it is. "Love Crime" has its moments, and it certainly has a sort of French luxury and ponderousness to it, but surely there are happier people in France than the characters of "Love Crime." For a filmmaker who supposedly mattered so much to his countrymen, "Love Crime" could have taken place in Topeka. It would have even looked the same.

3. "Love Crime" is a corporate thriller, which is pretty much the last thing in the world I'd associate with France. This takes place not in the touristy paradise of Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris," but in bland, sparse office buildings filled with unhappy people terrified their colleague down the hall is trying to destroy them. The office is led by a malevolent -- but not inherently evil, I'd say -- mother hen named Christine and played by Kristin Scott Thomas. I don't understand what business she runs, and I don't think I'm meant to: In corporate thrillers, the actual work these people do is pretty much a MacGuffin. She mistreats her assistant Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), but in a "Devil Wears Prada," this-is-for-your-own-good type of way. At least it seems so. Then she goes too far -- or at least seems to -- and we learn that her interactions with Isabelle have been sort of a long con. (Again: It seems.) So Isabelle puts forth a plan of her own.

4. None of this is nearly as seamy and scuzzy as it should be: This is a film noir with two femme fatales who would be more likely to buy a book by Warren Buffet than by Raymond Chandler. Halfway through, it switches from a tale of office espionage into a murder mystery, and the tonal shift is almost too much to take. Also: I'll do my best to avoid spoilers here, but let's just say Corneau picked the wrong actress to dominate the second half of the movie. She doesn't seem conniving, sinister or frankly intelligent enough to have pulled off everything the movie wants us to believe she pulled off. All told: I don't think I really understand much about the character at all, except that maybe she's insane? That's a problem when she's the center of your movie.

5. It is strange how un-French the film really is: Roman Polanski would have had a field day with this material. Instead, Corneau just sort of paints the first half in drab plaid (on purpose) and never does much to fire up the "mystery" aspect of the second. The whole movie feels undercooked, almost dispassionate. It's hardly the type of movie any director -- let alone a French director beloved by the president of France -- would want to go out on: muddled, muted and murky. At least it has Scott Thomas, who fills out a sketched-in character to the point that you just wish she were the only character in the movie. How come the British actress who came to France feels more French than the French people in her movie? Where's her letter from Sarkozy? Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if they were friends. That, that sounds oh-so-French.

Grade: C