For his debut feature Fred Grivois has called on the talent of successful French scriptwriters Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré. The duo were responsible for Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan which took the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Bidegain also wrote Audiard’s award winning Un Prophète and De Rouille et d’Os and has recently turned his hand to directing with the highly anticipated Les Cowboys out later this year. But neither Bidegain or Debré, nor the formidable acting skills of Reda Kateb and Ludivine Sagnier, can make sense of La Résistance de l’Air. Overall it’s a noirish thriller about a good man gone bad with several good ideas thrown into the pot that are never worked through with any conviction.
Kateb is Vincent Cavelle, a rifle shooting champion at a local range where he goes to let off steam. He lives with his wife Delphine (Sagnier) and young daughter and apart from some niggling money worries life is OK. Things start to go downhill when his father (Tchéky Karyo) has a heart attack and comes to live with his family and Vincent falls behind on payments towards a new house in the country. Enter the enigmatic Renault (Johan Heldenberg) who he meets apparently by chance at the shooting range. The two become friends and when Vincent tells Renault about his money problems, his new pal comes up with an unorthodox solution. He offers Vincent a contract as a hit man. As his marriage falls apart and his money problems worsen, Vincent takes Renault up on his offer and carries out the contract with unforseen and unwelcome consequences.
Vincent is an intriguing character. Are we to believe he is essentially a moral, upstanding person forced into taking desperate measures to protect his family or is he at heart at criminal? Grivois leaves the audience guessing. On the one hand, there is a lot of time spent laying the groundwork for Vincent’s crossing over to the dark side – his financial problems, the break-down of his marriage, his guilt over his father. And yet Grivois suggests Vincent’s moral ambivalence already existed. The cold-blooded assassination of a man leaves no emotional scar and he is prone to sudden outbreaks of violence. Then there’s the absurd idea that a sniper can kill a man in broad daylight in a major european capital without any fear of being tracked down by the authorities.
Kateb does his best. He is a versatile actor who admirably demonstrated his superior talent in such films as Thomas Lilti’s Hippocrate, David Oelhoffen’s Loin des Hommes, Marianne Tardieu’s Qui Vive and Brigitte Sy’s L’Astragale. And he does go some way to making Vincent sympathetic, but his understated performance leaves too many unexplained psychological gaps. Flemish actor Heldenberg does a great job of Renault. His lupine appearance, wide grin and ready laugh barely conceal an underlying menace which works extremely well when events for Vincent take a turn for the worse.
Recently Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper and Pierre Morel’s Gunman with Sean Penn wove a story around the central character of a sniper. Grivois’s film is a muddled addition to the list.