Reviews

'Rapt' Won't Enrapture

Rapt is rather curious in that unlike many others in the same genre, it lacks an intriguing, labyrinthine plot.


Rapt

Director: Lucas Belvaux
Cast: Yvan Attal, Anne Consigny
Distributor: Artificial Eye [UK]
Studio: Agat Films
UK Release Date: 2011-04-25

Looking at the DVD box cover for Lucas Belvaux’s critically acclaimed Rapt, you could be forgiven for assuming this film is yet another addition to the nouvelle vague of violent, action-packed contemporary French thrillers in the mould of 2004’s excellent 36 Quai des Orfèvres.

“Great action scenes and some real suspense” promises the blurb, and while Rapt certainly delivers some tense atmosphere and a fairly interesting premise, it’s actually a very slow-paced hostage thriller (and unless I missed it, I didn’t see one action scene) that fails to deliver anything particularly innovative or compelling, despite the handful of Cesar nominations it picked up, including one for best picture.

Rapt centres around Stanislas Graff (Yvan Attal), an extremely wealthy French industrialist and the current director of a large, prosperous company.

On the eve of a foreign business trip to be taken with a delegation attached to the French president, Graff is brutally kidnapped by a highly-organised gang demanding a ransom of many millions. What ensues is a series of negotiations between the criminals and the authorities, Graff’s company and his fraught family. Will each party agree in time to reach a peaceful end to Graff’s incarceration, or is time running out for him?

Despite great potential, Rapt is a very straightforward affair. I suppose director Belvaux should be praised for keeping things fairly broody, and much credit for this must go to Pierre Milon’s cinematography, which is dark, stylish and claustrophobic.

Yet expectations often precede films like this, and Rapt is rather curious in that unlike many others in the same genre, it lacks an intriguing, labyrinthine plot. Belvaux directs his own script very matter-of-factly indeed, and I was surprised by its lack of narrative subtlety.

For example, from the very outset, the kidnappers’ demands are revealed: they just want money, and lots of it. That’s it. There are no clever reveals, no moments of epiphany that change our perception of what we’ve already seen. I kept expecting a complete about-turn, but it never came. The very last shot of the film seems to be an attempt at a twist, or at least it suggests Graff’s ordeal is far from over, but we’ve been expecting this moment anyway -- telegraphed as it was half an hour previously -- so any power is lost.

Of course, that’s not to say that every crime thriller must offer huge narrative surprises, but multi-layered plots are fun to follow and unravel, and every film buff surely gets a kick out of being bamboozled by ingenious, well-structured screenwriting (think The Usual Suspects).

That said, for all its relative simplicity, there are nevertheless certain aspects of Rapt that are praiseworthy. The film displays some complexity in its examination of the moral and ethical implications that a crime such as kidnapping entails. Can a life be valued in monetary terms? Would it be unspeakable to present Graff as a sacrificial lamb in order to keep his corporation and its staff solvent? Do the police allow Graff’s company to comply with the gang’s demands, potentially leaving the door open for future copycat crimes?

Additionally, set against a backdrop of these dilemmas, the film draws some great tension from the conflict between the platonic ménage-a-trois that develops between the police, Graff’s family and his company, with each representing three distinct camps of thought, each with an invested interest in Graff’s return, and each with very different ideas about how to bring the kidnapping to a swift conclusion.

As mentioned, the police appear most keen to ensure that the future kidnapping of others doesn’t happen, and therefore they seem reluctant to negotiate with the criminals on the terms they demand.

The family, understandably, are prepared to offer anything it takes to see their patriarch retuned safely (although there is a subplot of infidelity and marital problems between Graff and his wife, this isn’t examined in any detail and soon reaches and narrative dead-end).

Finally, Graff’s business colleagues seem interested primarily in the continuing good fortune of the company, for while they too are initially keen for their leader to return, they are also concerned with number-crunching the ransom figures, and often appear insensitive, almost as if they are prepared to treat Graff as a commodity within a larger business deal.

Despite these conflicts, perhaps the most interesting and potentially satirical aspect of the film - and one I wish had been fleshed out more – involves the notion of a fickle news media, quick to lose interest when the initial drama dies down. As viewers begin to tire of the lack of new information and start to look elsewhere for their fix of voyeurism, so too the TV corporations treat Graff’s incarceration as old news.

In this context, and in spite of the film’s early, loud scenes showing the initial stages of the dramatic kidnap, the best moment in Rapt is a quiet one, and comes at the beginning of the final reel, when Graff, who has been moved to a slightly more comfortable basement room (minus a finger, which was earlier ‘removed for posting’ during a very queasy scene), is allowed access to a small television.

Left in momentary peace by his captors, he eagerly tunes in to the national news, only to see, with an overwhelming sense of dejection, that he scarcely warrants a mention, quickly realising that despite the threat of imminent death that hangs over him, he has nevertheless become a footnote in the main headlines, and his plight relegated to filler.

It’s this moment alone that is the film’s most interesting and affecting. Graff, already captive for weeks by this point, sports a full beard, and as we look at his gaunt, haunted face and dark, hollow eyes staring at the television screen, we feel his despair, his terror, his hopelessness. We too have been living the ordeal alongside him, and the realisation that he may have been forgotten by the public comes as a blow to us, as well.

Herein lays the problem with the film: in the face of its rather simple and fairly undemanding plot, Belvaux needed many more emotionally resonant moments like this one, and had he managed them, Rapt would have been a far more involving and satisfying experience.

There were no extras on the DVD.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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