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This nice little European thriller offers a mix of romance, drama and even some bits of action. The premise is simple. Vincent (Guillaume Canet) is a smart, educated young man who has a history of "illicit activities". One day, at his job at the airport, he and another corrupt colleague look at diplomatic luggage in the hope of scoring some valuable. Instead, Vincent is catapulted in an international terrorist conspiracy that will change the course of his life.
Espion(s) features an international-flavored cast and takes place in the UK and France. The movie features dialogs both in French and English and will be best enjoyed by those fluent in both languages since it switches so often. I think this gives an air of authenticity to this movie that I would like to see more often but those who aren't bilingual or hate subtitles might not appreciate it as much.
Nicolas Saada's direction is effective. There is an air of big budget movie, yet firmly European feel. The music of composer Cliff Martinez is punchy, effective yet elegant. The photography is crisp and clean if a little uninspired at times. We wish for more memorable shots and more glimpses of the cities, of the sets, of the action. But Saada mostly concentrate on the characters. Vincent is thrown in this world of agents, high rollers, opportunists, innocents and terrorists. A world he doesn't know much about but that seems to give him a second life.
Vincent is a classic underachiever and is Claire (played by beautiful Géraldine Pailhas), the disenchanted wife of a rich businessman who simply took the easiest way to security. Their relationship, their romance, is somewhat understated yet pleasant to see unfold. Veteran star Stephen Rea gives his usual solid performance but it feels like he was underused. It was also nice to see the talented Archie Panjabi do the best she could with her smaller but important role. If there was a disappointment, it was with the antagonist Alexander Siddig, who mails his performance despite having perceivable charisma and magnetism. He has very little to work with and we never care much for him, which makes the movie's main threat less palpable.
Where this movie shines is as a drama. Guillaume Canet gives yet another solid performance. He's been consistently proving that he is leading man material in whatever he is featured in. He gives multi-dimensionality to a sparsely written character. Where the movie lacks the most is action scenes. Not the number of them, but the execution. They do fall a little flat and uninspired. As everything else, the golden rule is that if you are going to do something, do it well. The knife fight scene and the final airport scene were not essential to the story and the script could have been reworked to avoid those. If they are kept, a director must inject more conviction and character in there.
This is a recommended movie and very enjoyable, although repeat viewings are not very likely.
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