Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Paris Countdown: Another Sleepless Night

Victor and Milan ought to stick to slinging drinks. Delivering a shipment of cash to a Mexican cartel predictably turns out to be really bad way to work off their debts.  It leads to all kinds of problems in Edgar Marie’s Paris Countdown (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It was all Milan’s fault and Victor is not about to forget it.  Forced to accompany his partner to Juarez, Victor gets the worst of it when the Federales bust their hand-off.  After a rough interrogation session, they are “convinced” to testify against their French contact, the psychotic Serki, whom the nightclub proprietors know will come looking for revenge if he ever gets out of prison.  That is exactly what happens six years later.

Victor has not talked to Milan since their Mexican misadventure.  He still bears the scars and the hearing aid from his close encounter with a power drill.  Yes, he is carrying a grudge, so when Wilfried, his mobbed-up sushi restauranteur colleague, offers him the chance to set-up Milan, he matter-of-factly agrees.  However, Victor finds betrayal is far more difficult once he comes face-to-face with his former friend again.  Against his better judgment, Victor will flee into the night with Milan, trying to stay one step ahead of Wilfried’s henchmen and the slightly put-out Serki.

Countdown is aesthetically reminiscent of several recent French noirs, including Frederic Jardin’s more action-oriented Sleepless Night and Philippe Lefebrve’s massively cool character-driven Paris By Night.  In terms of style, Countdown essentially splits the difference between the two.  Frankly, it is not as accomplished as either, but it still has its merits.  In fact, the world-weariness of its primary protagonists and general vibe of nocturnal angst are quite compelling.  Neither Milan nor Victor is any sort of action hero.  Clearly, both are physically past their prime, struggling to deal with their night of madness.

Olivier Marchal (the director of the similarly hardboiled 36th Precinct) is appropriately haggard yet appealing roguish as the exceptionally irresponsible Milan.  Jacques Gamblin clearly has less fun as Victor, but he is convincingly nebbish as the sad sack.  Unfortunately, Carlo Brandt’s Serki looks even older and more broken down than they do, making him a problematic villain.

As a thriller, Countdown has enough atmosphere and attitude to get the job done.  For his feature directorial debut, Marie shows a competent command of the elements, but the MVPs are clearly Marchal and cinematographer Danny Elsen, who gives it a fitting Miami Vice-like sheen.  Recommended for fans of French thrillers, Paris Countdown opens this Friday (11/8) in New York at the Cinema Village.