In French with Chinese & English subtitles
Director: Richard Berry
Cast: Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Marina Foïs, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Luc Palun, Richard Berry, Joey Starr, Dominique Thomas, Martial Bezot, Daniel Lundh
RunTime: 1 hr 55 mins
Released By: InnoForm Media & Cathay-Keris
Day: 10 June 2010
Charly Matteï has turned his back on his life as an outlaw. For the last three years, he's led a peaceful life devoting himself to his wife and two children.
Then, one winter morning, he's left for dead in the parking garage in Marseille's Old Port, with 22 bullets in his body.
Against all the odds, he doesn't die...
This film is a work of fiction inspired by real-life events in the world of the Marseille mafia.
Luc Besson isn't credited here, but his mark is all over this French gangland thriller. In recent years, Besson has made a name for himself and his production studio, EuropaCorp, for writing and producing simple but efficient French action thrillers the likes of District 13, Taken and the more recent From Paris with Love. Yes, cynics will well dismiss them as B-grade movies, but there's no denying the entertainment value in them.
The same can be said of this latest from EuropaCorp, and produced by his EuropaCorp co-founder, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. The story of a retired Mafia leader Charley Mattei (Jean Reno) who is shot 22 times at close range but lives to exact revenge isn't at all complicated (even its supposed twist ending isn't exactly surprising) but director Richard Berry (who also co-wrote the script) has fashioned a taut and fast-paced action thriller that genre aficionados will definitely enjoy.
As with all Mafioso thrillers, this one has to do with Mattei's past and Jean Reno's opening voiceover would already tell you as much. Apparently, Mattei's two business partners- Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad) and Aurelio Rampoli (director Berry himself)- havenít exactly taken too well to his instructions not to go into the drug business after retiring and handing over his casino and hotel enterprises over to them, so in a pre-emptive move, they have decided to take Mattei out.
Why none of the eight gunmen who fired those 22 bullets thought of shooting him in the head is a good question to ask- but a pointless one, since we wouldn't have a movie otherwise, would we? Anyway, Mattei lives and those same men decide to warn him against taking revenge by brutally murdering his friend and partner- which of course does exactly the opposite, setting him off in a quest for vengeance that will see more blood spilled.
Berry uses the analogy of how spilled blood never dries to illustrate the vicious cycle of revenge- one of two themes running throughout the film. Despite his enemies' prejudiced ways, Berry is careful to portray Mattei as being above them, picking them off one by one not in the same cold-blooded way they dealt to him, but in a calm and dignified manner- one to the head, and one to the heart. Heck, he even warns them beforehand to make peace and say goodbye to their families. That is the other running theme in the film- the importance of family- which Mafioso types apparently hold dear (not so different from The Sopranos, are they?).
Familiar though these themes may be, Berry does a competent job giving them enough emotional heft to matter above the bullets and blood on display. Of particular interest is a subplot involving a recently widowed cop (Marina Fois) who is helpless to avenge her husband's death despite knowing who his murderers are. And here's one thing genre aficionados will also love- "22 Bullets" is violent, not in an excessive manner that would be off-putting, but at the right intensity to provoke your emotions and get you stirred up.
Indeed, the bloodshed and carnage here is well-measured, and allows its audience to feel the futility of violence and its concomitant destruction of the people we hold most dear. While it isn't as visceral as Besson's Taken (which arguably this film shares many similarities with), it still packs enough punch for its audience to root for Mattei despite his questionable methods.
In the lead role of Charley Mattei, Jean Reno returns to the type of role he is best known for- thanks in no small part to Besson's 1994 classic The Professional, as well as other Besson productions Wasabi and The Crimson Rivers 2. Once again, Reno's signature crease-lined face embodies the role of the aging assassin looking for a better future, but finds his past hard to escape. Even though one suspects this role isn't much of a stretch for Reno, the quiet dignity he usually brings to such characters continues to shine through.
Like its casting of Jean Reno, it's easy to fault "22 Bullets" for its lack of originality or even sheer predictability- but the same can be said of many of Luc Besson's action thrillers. Still, Besson's name has more often than not been a stamp of quality on these movies that have proven much more entertaining than some of the drivel Hollywood continues to make. And chances are, you're likely to agree that Besson continues this streak with this latest from his EuropaCorp, an intense and thrilling revenge thriller that punches all the right notes for an adrenaline-filled time.
(Dark and intense, this French gangland thriller is reminiscent of some of the best Luc Besson films)
Review by Gabriel Chong