Vincent (Schoenaerts) is invalided out of the French army with PTSD and takes a job as bodyguard to the wife (Diane Kruger) and son of an arms dealer. While the shady businessman is away, Vincent becomes convinced his clients are in danger.
Director-writer Alice Winocour’s simmering thriller/character study is like a Transporter film directed by Chantal Akerman, with superb work from Matthias Schoenaerts as a buttoned-down, paranoid ex-soldier who senses evil forces in every shadow… but just might be right.
Matthias Schoenaerts as a buttoned-down, paranoid ex-soldier. But is he a hero, a fall guy or a lethal menace?
Prowling through an oddly joyless high society party, Schoenaerts’ tightly wound action man picks up on eddies of conspiracy in his boss’ mansion. Guarding the wife and son of a well-connected arms dealer, he pores over the security camera feeds – ogling his leggy blonde boss (Kruger), transparently eager for a chance to show off his brutal combat skills by saving her from perhaps imaginary kidnappers.
Winocour keeps the ambiguity up throughout, so that when a conspiracy thriller plot starts being worked out, there’s a possibility that the lead character may misunderstand what’s going on — is he a hero, a fall guy or a lethal menace?
There are inevitable bursts of action, and the pace picks up in the second half when Vincent and his charges return to the mansion after an aborted kidnap, which the police are strangely blasé about. Calling in a more genial, if menacing mercenary (Paul Hamy) for back-up, Vincent shows a film-noir private eye’s mania for staying loyal to sinister clients with seductive wives. But Winocour takes a very different approach to tying up the mystery in order to focus on the protagonist’s eponymous post-combat condition.
This reclaims from American filmmakers like Walter Hill, Michael Mann and Paul Schrader a type of pared-down, highly stylised genre movie — typified by an unblinking look at coiled-spring masculine neuroses — that originated with French directors like Jean-Pierre Melville and Henri-Georges Clouzot.
A notable, unusual existential thriller that is psychologically acute without the need for Oscar-clip self-pitying speeches, it’s also terrifically suspenseful with a provocative punchline.