- Emma Simmonds
- 17 July 2017
François Cluzet is the star of a disappointing political thriller from Thomas Kruithof
Sporting the apprehensive air of a lesser Le Carré, Scribe (La mécanique de l'ombre) will appeal to fans of the author – to whom the story owes a debt – alongside admirers of the French Dustin Hoffman, François Cluzet. With echoes of Cluzet's work in 'wrong man' thriller Tell No One, writer-director Thomas Kruithof's debut swaps the aforementioned's Fugitive-style shenanigans for something more chilly and measured.
Although set in the present-day, Scribe takes inspiration from the Lebanon hostage crisis of the 1980s and its impact on then French PM Jacques Chirac. An effective opener sees Cluzet's compliant accountant Duval unravel following a simple yet impossible request at the end of a working day, in a scene sure to resonate with overstretched officer workers everywhere.
Two years later and Duval has pulled himself back from alcohol-fuelled despondency and is ready to re-enter the world of work. When his efforts to secure conventional employment come to nothing, Duval receives a mysterious call inviting him for an interview and ultimately finds himself working from an apartment transcribing phone-tapped conversations for the shadowy Clément (Denis Podalydès). In amongst the government business and chit-chat is information alluding to the murder of a businessman and Duval gets his hands dirty when he's drawn into the cover-up.
The Conversation, The 39 Steps and The Lives of Others are amongst the cinematic gems referenced in a film that, in its drive for efficiency, feels overly pared down. Clocking in at just 91-minutes, it spins a web of intrigue that's far from complex; it's shorn of incidental detail and pivots predictably. And there are the usual parallels between those operating outside and inside the law as Duval finds himself pressured by both political string-pullers and the secret service (including Sami Bouajila's Labarthe), with both outfits willing to chuck him under the bus.
Respectable if overly derivative, Scribe has a slick-enough veneer, yet its retro stylings feel a little forced – Duval transcribes by typewriter from cassettes due to Clément's distrust of modern tech – while a burgeoning relationship with a fellow alcoholic, played by Alba Rohrwacher, is depressingly age-inappropriate and lazily tacked on (she exists merely to be placed in jeopardy). Kruithof helms with a steady hand but the screenplay (co-written with Yann Gozlan) shows a disappointing lack of ambition; it fails to bring a distinctive voice to a film that offers neither a contemporary twist on the well-worn conspiracy thriller, nor a satisfyingly meaty take on a true story.
Selected release from Fri 21 Jul.