22 Bullets (L'Immortel)
Twenty-two being the number of slugs retired gangster don Charly Matteï (Jean Reno) is plugged with at point-blank range during the striking opening of this glossy French crime movie. Improbably, Matteï survives the assassination attempt with only a paralysed hand and a scar on his cheek. Now wishing to live a good and quiet life, he shoos revenge despite learning that the kill order had come from his old partner-in-crime Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad). But when Zacchia begins to wipe out his friends and colleagues, Matteï comes out of retirement seeking some old-fashioned, cold-blooded revenge.
Both 22 Bullets and the novel it’s adapted from, L’Immortel by Franz-Olivier Giesbert, are based loosely on the life of the last don of Marseille, Jacques Imbert, and the gang war he fought with rival Tany Zampa in the 1970s. Writer-director Richard Berry has updated the action to the modern day, and given the story the commercial polish of a Hollywood blockbuster. Thus, we’re treated to several deafening shoot-outs, a handful of gruesome executions, much macho posturing and some handsome location photography. We’re also expected to accept that old chestnut good crime boss/bad crime boss and sympathise with Matteï now that he no longer runs the rackets and never dealt drugs – unlike his wicked ex-partner.
It’s a bit hard to swallow the sentimentality, and the tonal shifts between sadistic violence and syrupy drama don’t help. Still, Berry maintains the pace and Reno is watchable as always. And the OTT opening is a stunner. And, apparently, true.
Selected release, Fri 3 Sep.