Ooh La La, ‘The Prey’ Is a Nail-Biter

[21 February 2014]

By David Maine

The Prey is a French thriller in the mold of The Fugitive, with a number of important differences, the most important being that the protagonist is a bank robber already in jail as the film begins. Franck Adrien has only three months left to serve on his sentence, but that proves to be three months too long, when, after a lengthy setup, he realizes that his wife and young daughter are in mortal danger die to a miscalculation he has made.

Frantic with worry, Adrien manages to break out of prison, making a beeline for his family, with the police in hot pursuit. The chase is on.

This being a non-Hollywood thriller, though, there are a few more layers to it than just, “cops chase crook for 90 minutes”. Adrien has left enemies behind in the prison, his former partners, who think he’s busting out in order to grab their stashed loot. Then there are the gendarmes out in the world, who have him pegged for a series of brutal murders. Adrien has been framed for all that, and this fact is cleverly tied in with what causes him to jailbreak in the first place.

Of course, the audience knowing the truth is a far cry from the cops onscreen knowing the truth, so the longer Adrien runs and tries to make things right, the deeper a pit he digs himself into.

The action is visceral, with every punch to the face and fall from great height filmed in an unglamorous way that brings home the punishment to Adrien’s body. (Prison violence is something the French do very well. Ever see A Prophet? Oh, man.) Unlike, say, Bruce Willis in the increasingly ridiculous Die Hard movies, Albert Dupontel’s Adrien isn’t some sort of Superman able to take an endless amount of punishment. He’s a tough guy, sure, a genuinely tough guy; but he bleeds and bruises when punched or kicked, and he gets punched and kicked a lot.

You don’t really watch a movie like this for the character development, but there are some interesting narrative arcs going on. Adrien is pretty much turned up to 11 for the whole movie, but Alice Taglioni as hotshot police detective Claire Linné has a bit more to do as she hunts Adrien and gradually begins to work out that aren’t as clear-cut as they seem. Stéphane Debac and Natacha Régnier provide capable support as the film’s stealth bad guys, whose story arc proves to be every bit as nail-biting as the main storyline.

There’s not a great deal more to it than that. The Preybounces along from one suspense-building setup to the next, erupting in a flurry of running, shooting, driving very fast, and occasionally falling from great heights. Then everyone regroups – good guys, bad guys, bad guys who are driven by noble motives, bad guys who are real monsters, good guys who just want to get this thing over with. A few minutes of conversation and a red herring or two, and we’re charging off again. It ain’t Citizen Kane, or for that matter Jean de Florette, but it’s not a bad way to while away 90 minutes of your time.

Leading man Dupontel does a good job with relatively little to work with here. The script asks him to do little besides play a tough guy who loves his family, and he does that capably enough. His craggy face, worn and haunted and perpetually wary, lends more depth to his character than another actor might have managed, and his flyaway hair is a nice touch, too. There are a couple moments of extreme emotion, and he delivers on those as well. It’s Dupontel’s movie from start to finish, and he proves himself worthy of it.

Cohen Media Group has distributed numerous other interesting “foreign” films recently, notably the German neo-Nazi drama Combat Girls, and they are to be commended for their series of unorthodox offerings. Bonus features on this particular blu-ray include a lengthy behind-the-scenes feature (which focuses primarily on the fight sequences), plus a substantial interview with director Eric Vallette. There’s also a fairly pointless eight-page leaflet with a few photos and very limited cast and crew listings.

Fans of action films who are open to a different look and style from the usual Hollywood bombast are encouraged to take a look.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/179272-the-prey/