Scribe (2 stars)

Scribe

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.

Scribe

  • 2 stars
  • 2016
  • Belgium/France
  • 1h 28min
  • Directed by: Thomas Kruithof
  • Cast: François Cluzet, Denis Podalydès, Sami Bouajila

The unemployed Duval is contacted by a mysterious organisation to transcribe intercepted calls. He accepts the job with no suspicions, since it restores stability to his life, but it will soon result in political shenanigans of all kinds. Respectable if overly derivative, Scribe has a slick-enough veneer, yet its retro…

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