Though Mélanie Laurent might be best known to English-speaking audiences for her head-turning femme fatale in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, she’s still not the first face you’d pick for a genre-keen thriller like Requiem for a Killer. Oddball casting aside – given that Laurent, much better suited to character-driven drama, tries hard to convince – Jérôme Le Gris’s elegantly-shot hit-woman procedural falters due to rote plotting and an almost complete lack of tension.
On the plus side, Gris doesn’t hang about. Right from the opening scene, assassin Lucrèce (Laurent) is on the job, staging a meticulously planned murder by poisoning a ceremonial wafer during a church mass. When it threatens to wind up in the mouth of an innocent, she has to spring into action. It is a markedly suspenseful scene with which to begin a film, but unfortunately one which makes each subsequent exchange, lacking the same mood, feel disappointingly limp.
Lucrèce’s latest assignment involves posing as an opera singer and bumping off baritone Alexander Child (Christopher Stills), who stands at odds with the interests of a large British oil corporation. Lucrèce, a distant mother to a young girl, is a reluctant employee and quite typically wants to get out of the game with what might be “one last job”. However, the presence of a police officer, Rico (Clovis Cornillac), posing as a classical guitarist, threatens everything, as does news that a hit is to be taken out on her own life as well.
The problem with Gris’s film is that it’s so simplistic and derivative of the very American thrillers it would assume to distance itself from, that the airy European flavour in fact does little to distinguish it. Laurent is functional enough in the lead role, but her character is thinly written as is everything else, resulting in a crushing lack of atmosphere despite multiple efforts to seemingly get the ball rolling.
Typical of the continent, Killer is beautifully shot, milking its baroque rural locale, complete with a large mansion in the mountains, for all it is worth. Also, the second act employs some palpable drama which helps elevate things slightly above the cliches – a calm chit-chat between cop and killer is more uneasy than a full-on showdown would have been. As the search for a mystery second assassin is mounted, the red herrings pile on, as do a few surprising plot turns, but the inert characterisation unfortunately makes it difficult to care when the cast starts biting it. Also troublesome is that by virtues, hair styles and dress codes, several peripheral bureaucratic characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Intrigue builds to a disappointing, confusing, spatially messy reveal which, while clearly inspired in part by Hitchcock, lacks his deft touch, instead feeling piecemeal and unsure of itself. There is no physical or emotional intensity, and unfortunately, not much reason to care about what is going on. Furthermore, a shoehorned love story abounds suddenly in the denouement which is liable to earn guffaws from audiences, if not sighs.
Don’t make the mistake that just because it’s in a foreign language and secured a theatrical UK release, that it’s actually any good. While it seems keen to ride the coattails of its genre lineage – the likes of Léon, La Femme Nikita and all of the Besson-inspired fare that followed – it amounts to nothing but a hollow, visually appealing shade.
Virtually defining style over substance, Requiem for a Killer disappoints on almost all fronts.
Requiem for a Killer is on limited release from Friday.