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Étienne Meunier (Benoît Magimel) is a young executive who has everything going for him. His career is skyrocketing and he is about to become #1 at work, he is married to a picture-perfect wife, has a dream home and money. To top it off, he's charming, healthy and everyone likes him and seems to consider him "a great guy". But beneath the surface, not everything is perfect. Meunier feels some pressure at work, knowing others eye his future position and he and his wife have been unable to have children so far. One day, Meunier bumps into a childhood friend, Patrick Chambon (François-Xavier Demaison) and the two resume their friendship, despite Chambon having struggled as a petty criminal. With mounting pressure on him, Meunier confides to Chambon the secret of his success. He built his career on a lie, stealing a soap formula from someone and can't get over it. His long lost friend tries to help but sets off a chain of events that threatens everything Meunier holds dear.
At its heart, Sans laisser de traces is very much the classic story of a protagonist being held back by another character close to him. The more Chambon tries to help, the more complicated things get for Meunier but the more difficult it is to dissociate himself from his "friend". Despite the story being constructed like a fairly conventional thriller, director Grégoire Vigneron does a good job building characters in shades of grey, never taking things over the top and turning this into a clear cut situation.
At the center of it all is Étienne Meunier, played expertly by Magimel, who sheds his blockbuster aura for this character, much like Harrison Ford did in the early 90s by taking on more fallible roles (Regarding Henry and Presumed Innocent). At no point are we manipulated into thinking Meunier is pure as snow, nor does he turn into a simple crook. We simply witness a man who is willing to do the right thing but also explores the possibility of wronging others if it might help him save his own skin.
Other elements throughout the story also hint that Meunier may not be such a great guy. After all, the woman he married is the daughter of his current (soon former) boss and a lot of his pleasant personality may seem calculating at times. All these things prevent the movie from simply being "another thriller" and instead offer a more dramatic experience.
If there was something missing for me, it was in the character of Chambon, Meunier's friend. For one, actor Demaison did not wow me with this performance and I felt at times, the chemistry was a bit lacking between these two actors. Much of the plot and events unfolding depend on Chambon's actions and suggestions and the actor did not "sell me" on the character.
Overall, Sans laisser de traces remains a fairly entertaining take on a somewhat classic plot structure. It never becomes embarrassing or too far-fetched. Several peripheral characters (played by a solid cast) keep things interesting and lifelike. However, nothing here is truly memorable and its resolution feels a little too neatly tied up for my liking.
Because of this, I recommend it as a rent but I doubt I would watch it more than once.
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