The Prey from 2011, streaming on Amazon Prime now, is a tense and multi-faceted thriller directed by Éric Valette. It’s violent, yes, but the plot twists leave us and its central character Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) dealing with one enemy when another, altogether more sinister one, waits in the wings.
Adrien is a bank robber, a successful one part from the internment he is enduring when we’re introduced to him. He has, after all, managed to conceal the money from the police and his former, drug addicted partner along with his loving, dedicated wife.
In a prison run by a corrupt, repugnant official he is repeatedly victimised by his accomplice who becomes ever more desperate to know where the money is hidden. This desperation is fuelled by the debt he owes his powerful supplier on the outside, who ultimately becomes a threat to Adrien too.
Adrien nevertheless shows his moral streak when his cellmate, the apparently pious John-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac), is attacked by other inmates for his crimes which involved a young girl. Adrien, believing him to be innocent after reading his diary entries, protects him. As a result he’s left fighting a war on two fronts; his former accomplice and his drug suppliers and the prison authorities and the frustrated vigilantes.
Following an attack he awakes in hospital to find Maurel at his bedside offering his ‘guardian angel’ help. He is soon to be released, having had all charges dropped. Adrien, receiving threats against his family on the outside, decides to trust him with a coded message to his wife about the location of the money to aid her escape from these malignant forces.
Debac’s Maurel has us doubting his innocence throughout. He is too clean cut, too apparently devout. This, coupled with his physical weakness gives him the air of the stereotypical pervert hiding behind the veneer of respectability and vulnerability. It’s as we view Maurel prepare to leave his cell that our doubts are increased; he is seen removing hair from a comb and concealing it in a pill packet.
These prison scenes are interspersed with the introduction of Claire Linné, Alice Taglioni, the female police officer who is ultimately assigned to recapture Adrien. Unlike America and Britain France is not famed for its political correctness and Linné, along with a homosexual colleague, appears to be the film’s attempt at diversity. If the film had concentrated on Linnés detection abilities rather than veering towards the stereotypes of a female officer battling sexism (she is lauded by all her colleagues, yet at the same time belittled for having ‘women’s intuition’?) and making her character physically dominant throughout the film it would have been more successful.
In terms of the physical situations the actress Taglioni is put in they fall flat not because the character can somehow endure what is way beyond any reality; after all this is the case for male characters too. They receive blow after violent blow, are shot, lose pints of blood and still manage to continue. We expect this from films, rightly or wrongly. The difficulty in this film is that Taglioni can’t convince of this as she hasn’t got the physicality. She is catwalk thin, no ‘Sarah Conner’ muscularity, yet apparently able to overcome muscular, underworld criminals by herself?
Even in the sections where she is running she continually looks out of breath, ready to give up any minute.
As regards to her homosexual colleague, whose presence on screen is extremely time limited, he manages to identify his sexual orientation by discussing suspects looks and actually stating how he’d like to ‘interview’ them. Camp is the word and, to be honest, if I was gay I’d be a little offended.
With these grating issues aside the film continues to thrill and the evil of Maurel is enough to have you reaching for the fast forward button, trying to escape it. It’s after his exit from prison that Adrien’s confidence in him is shattered. Debac allows the mask to slip occasionally, brilliantly revealing glimpses of the manipulative, controlling psychopath intent on freeing himself from the constraint of suspiscion by framing Adrien and at the same time satisfying his need to kill.
He is joined by the other female lead, his wife Christine (Natacha Régnier). Whereas Taglioni’s character is stereotypical and unbelievable Régnier’s is uncomfortably challenging. She is complicit in his crimes and – whilst seemingly able to desire living in a seemingly innocent, familial relationship with Maurel and Adrien’s kidnapped daughter – she knowingly aids her husband in his murderous activities whilst showing little if any guilt.
It is the protection of his daughter that ultimately forces Adrien to absconde from jail resulting in a film with is dense in plot lines, but which manages to deliver them in a coherent story. One of the most gripping chase sequences involves Adrien running from the police through high speed traffic; a deftly shot scene which creates more tension on foot because of the obvious danger than any high speed car chase.
This is the kind of film that I can see Hollywood ‘reinvisioning’, like the brilliant Pour Elle which later became the Russel Crowe vehicle The Next Three Days; although probably without the crass, homosexual stereotypes. However it is obvious too where the film has been influence by Hollywood – I won’t say any more as it would spoil the ending.
On the whole a brilliant movie which I highly recommend.