Following mixed reviews for his directorial debut Captifs (Caged), Yann Gozlan has turned down the gore and turned up the suspense for Un Homme Idéal starring Pierre Niney, recent winner of the best actor César for the title role in Jalill Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent. Un Homme Idéal has a definite whiff of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley and echoes of 2012’s The Words with Bradley Cooper. But it’s in a class of its own. An efficient, visually stylish thriller which maintains the tension throughout and is hugely watchable despite a predictable plot and too-tidy ending. Niney is faultless as the ambitious Matthieu, whose greed and desire to impress set in motion a series of macabre events which prove crime doesn’t pay.
Twenty-five-year-old Mathieu (Niney) is an aspiring writer who is struggling to get his first book published. To make ends meet, he works for his uncle’s removals firm. While clearing out the apartment of an old man after his death, Mathieu finds a diary of the man’s expériences as a soldier during the Algerian war. He decides to publish the diary under his own name and the novel becomes a huge success landing Mathieu the lifestlyle, and the woman, he has always wanted. But a second novel is a long-time coming and three years later a mysterious phone call while on holiday with his girlfriend (Ana Giradot) on the Cote d”Azur reveals someone else knows Mathieu’s dark secret.
Un Homme Idéal works because Mathieu is a sympathetic leading man. He is cunning yet vulnerable; ruthless yet naïve and is not at heart a criminal but an opportunist. Niney looks the part with his large, wide, innocent eyes and youthful good looks. And Gozlan has thoughtfully provided a cast of gullible secondary characters who are either too smug or self-involved to ask the obvious questions about Mathieu’s increasingly strange behaviour. There is also a lighter side to Mathieu’s dilemma which Gozlan subtly exploits altering the tone of some of the film’s darker scenes to comic effect. Gozlan cleverly uses the stunning background of the Cote d’Azur at the peak of summer with its endless blue skies and energy draining heat, to heighten the claustrophobic atmosphere which contributes to Mathieu’s sense of invulnerability. It’s also difficult to put a finger on the exact period in which the film is set. Remove the mobile phones and laptop computers and this could be 1950s or 60s France, Perhaps a nod to that great master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock who used the stunning scenary of the Cote d’Azur himself as a backdrop to his 1955 romantic thriller, To Catch a Thief. This isn’t quite Hitchcock, but it’s not too far behind.