The French know how to make a good thriller. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing dozens of them over the years, and what always impresses me about their particular take on the genre is there’s a firm commitment to balancing the action along with some respectable (though not universal) character development. The formula (so far as I’ve been able to detect) is to take a man or a woman who’s a bit tarnished about the soul, throw them into the middle of a strained set of circumstances, and watch the sparks fly – as much from the gunplay and fisticuffs as they do from crackling dialogue. And, invariably, many of the better French thrillers eventually get discovered by American audiences once they’ve been given the standard ‘Americanized’ remake, which inevitably means more bloat and a bigger budget. For my tastes, I’ll take the original any day of the week over an inferior retread.
Though I’m not presently aware of 2011’s THE PREY being lined up for an American version, I’ve no doubt it may get one someday. It’s exactly the kind of character vehicle Hollywood thespians want their name attached, and it’s story delivers a “root for the underdog” crime drama American audiences love.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Franck Adrien (played with the perfect mix of charisma and aloofness by Albert Dupontel) is a convicted bank robber whose prison term is winding down, much to the delight of his wife Anna (a luminous Caterina Murino) and daughter. However, one night he’s forced by his own convictions to stand up for his cellmate, the mousey Jean-Louis Maurel (Stephane Debac), a convicted child molester who claims innocence. Franck’s good deed ends up putting him in the hospital, where he confides a deep secret (where he’s stashed the millions from his last bank job) to Maurel, hoping that the man will aid Franck’s wife on the outside.
Before you know it, Franck learns he’s confided in the wrong man, and he’s left with no other choice than to break out of prison in order to save his family and stop Maurel for framing him as a serial killer.
The best thing I can say about THE PREY is that, if you liked THE FUGITIVE, then you’re probably going to love this. Narratively, the film mirrors that one’s structure – the wrongly accused man trying to set things right – while dishing out some terrific action sequences, one after the other. In fact, it even picks up that whole ‘die-hard cop who senses things are amiss’ in casting the lovely Claire Linne as Detective Alice Taglioni, the head of a fugitive apprehensive task force. From the plot’s earliest developments, she doesn’t swallow the suspicions that Franck Adrien is a serial killer of young woman; and, defying the orders of her superiors, she continues to question matters on her own while trying to capture the escaped con before others would shoot him dead. Her Linne is a bit of a powder keg, a cop whose willing to get in and mix-it-up old school with the bad boys who won’t drop their weapons when they’re ordered to do so. It’s a big performance, and it could lead to bigger things for the lady.
All of this is effectively directed by Eric Valette. He marshals all of the creative forces here, pushing his cast and crew to deliver something that, at times, feels a bit formulaic … but it’s always a great formula, one easy on the eyes and stirring for the ears (it features a great film score from Noko). Plus, the story pushes all of the right buttons in the proper configuration, and I’ve no doubt audiences will enjoy this one if they’re willing to give the French film a spin in their DVD players.
THE PREY  is produced by a whole host of participants, including Brio Films, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Production, and Cinemage 5 to name but a few (if you’re seriously that interested, surf on over to IMDB.com for the full details). DVD distribution is being handled by Entertainment One (E One) via their Cohen Media Group title. For those needing it spelled out perfect, this is a French-language film with English subtitles available (though the main menu does offer an English-dubbed version). As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly assembled piece from start to finish with the highest quality sights and sounds contributing efficiently to the completed product. If it’s special features you want, then you’re in store for a 40-min. making-of short, an interview with director Valette, and the theatrical trailer: a nice collection, indeed.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Tense, taut, and terrific, THE PREY starts out slow but builds up to a massive sizzle, heightening the intrigue with some deft moves on the part of a brilliant script by Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi. It many ways, the story is reminiscent of Hitchcock – the way he loved to take an ‘everyman’ and put him through some treacherous paces – though our lead, Franck Adrien, doesn’t exactly begin with a heart-of-gold; instead, he has to prove there’s one beating beneath before all is said and done.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment One (aka E One) and the Cohen Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of THE PREY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.