For his first move from the small to the big screen, director Gilles Bannier has drafted in the superb Reda Kateb as a taxi-driver wrongly accused of the abduction of a young girl. Despite the presence of Kateb and the equally watchable Léa Drucker, Arrêtez-moi là is a ‘fence-sitter’ of a film. Neither compelling human drama nor nail-bitting thriller, it struggles to find direction and pace and leaves the audience gamely waiting for a plot twist which never surfaces. Bannier’s TV portfolio includes several episodes of the highly-acclaimed and internationally successful series Spiral (Engrenages). And Arrêtez-moi là does have a ‘made-for-tv’ feel, lacking the depth and complexity of a full-length cinematic feature. It’s difficult to fault Kateb who does a great job in the face of a thin plot and weak dialogue, but it’s plainly an uphill struggle.
Samson Cazalet (Kateb) works as a taxi-driver in the southern French city of Nice. At the airport he picks up an attractive woman (Drucker) and takes her back to her house in Grasse where she lives with her young daughter Mélanie (Thémis Pauwels). Not long after, Mélanie is abducted and the finger of blame points to Samson. The more he tries to claim the innocence, the more guilty he appears. His situation is made worse by an incompetant court-appointed lawyer (Gilles Cohen) and the testimony of his girlfriend Elizabeth (Erika Sainte) who portrays Samson as a commitment phobic loner.
Done well, films about the wrongly accused are in a class of their own – The Fugitive, Shawshank Redemption, North by Northwest. Essentially, the central character needs to have a keen sense of the injustice being visited upon them. And Samson is too quick to roll over and play dead. It’s not enough for the blatant holes in the plot to be covered by police incompetence, Samson is too complicit in his own downfall. If Arrêtez-moi là is to be believed, the French judiciairy system is in a parlous state barely held together by atrocious police investigations, overworked laywers and unsympathetic judges. While Bannier tries to make amends with an upbeat ending, it’s a case of too little, too late.