Rédemption (2013)

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After prison he wanted to go straight, but there was one little problem . . .
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Canada / 115 minutes / color / Desperado Dir & Scr: Joel Gauthier Pr: Claudine Garant, Roger Morin, Joel Gauthier Cine: Olivier Arends Leblanc Cast: Patrice Godin, Joel Gauthier, Isabelle O’Brien, France Pilotte, Valérie Roy, Roberto Mei, Marc Fournier, Zoé Béliveau, Mathieu Dufresne, Julien Poulin, Carina Caputo, Julien Deschamps Jolin, Francis Martineau, Victor Labelle, Elliot Miville-Deschênes, Alexandre Richard, Simon St.-Georges.

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Isabelle O’Brien as Sophie.

Montréal. Having served eight years inside for cocaine trafficking, and with the suspicion of murder hanging over his head, Alain Gagné (Godin) returns home a reformed man. To the delight of his loving mom Micheline (Pilotte), he gets himself a legitimate job at the garage owned by Gilles Mercier (Poulin) and, with some difficulty, earns the renewed affections of his old girlfriend Sophie (O’Brien). The only fly in his new life’s ointment is his younger brother Danny (Gauthier).

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Danny (Joel Gauthier) and Karine (Valérie Roy) are delighted that Alain’s home . . .

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. . . as is their daughter, Eve (Zoé Béliveau).

It’s not that he doesn’t love his kid brother—he does, very much so. It’s that Danny, under cover of co-owning a profitable nightclub, has a cocaine-dealing empire and is eager that Alain join him in this enterprise—get back into the old life, in other words. And, in his own small way, Danny is flying high on the back of his criminal career. He has a flashy house, a flashy car, a beautiful wife, Karine (Roy), who knows nothing of his underworld activities, and an absolutely enchanting almost-seven-year-old daughter, Eve (Béliveau). But Alain isn’t tempted.

There are some interesting dichotomies here. It’s made clear to us that the pre-prison Alain was pretty goddam vicious, and yet he’s portrayed as a very sensitive, introspective, sympathetic character; his harmless curiosity on his way home from prison on the bus as he sees all sorts of signs of changed times—female fashions, obsessive texting—is exquisitely done, and makes us like him immediately. We can see why Sophie relents and lets him back into her life and why one of the local cops, Sylvain Bouchard (Fournier), who was his childhood friend, still feels loyalty to him and offers him help re-establishing himself in his new strait-and-narrow life. And Danny, while brutal in his business practices—the combination of his happy grin and his sadism demonstrate that he’s at least a borderline sociopath—and despite his heavy cocaine habit and a hinted-at promiscuity, is a magnanimous and loving husband and father when he’s at home.

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Alain (Patrice Godin) reassures friendly cop Sylvain that all’s well.

I came to the conclusion that the Good Alain and the Good Danny were what the brothers would both have become had not their lives been scarred by the experience in childhood of seeing their father Daniel (Martineau) gunned down in a gangland execution.

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The young Alain (Victor Labelle) is aghast to witness the murder of his father.

One day Danny and his omnipresent sidekick and tame muscle Mike (Mei) spot a small-time cocaine dealer, Pierre-Luc Chayer (Dufresne), operating on their territory, and work him over. When he tells them they’ve chosen the wrong person to rough up they just laugh—he’s a nobody talking big. We, of course, having seen our share of movies in this milieu before, know at once that they should be taking him seriously.

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Karine (Valérie Roy) begins to sense there’s something going wrong.

One night Danny throws a party at the nightclub for Alain—a party that Alain doesn’t want—to celebrate his brother’s release from the joint. Among the customers at the bar Danny spots Pierre-Luc Chayer—not dealing, just drinking. Even so, Danny decides to teach him a lesson. He follows Chayer into the restrooms and, with Mike standing guard outside, impetuously murders the man. Alain and Mike help Danny get rid of the body, but afterwards Alain tells him that’s it: he no longer wants Danny as a part of his life, not at the cost of risking his freedom and the love of Sophie.

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Cop Sylvain Bouchard (Marc Fournier) can’t shake off his childhood friendship with Alain.

It’s fairly obvious by now where the movie’s going. Chayer was nephew to one of the big bosses of the powerful Gang de l’Est, and it’s not long before they track down and execute Danny in a deserted gas station forecourt. The kindly cop Sylvain Bouchard tells Alain a bit more than he should about the police investigation of the murder and, despite all his resolutions, Alain avenges his kid brother’s death. There can be no happy ending to this story.

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Danny’s ever-obliging lieutenant, Mike (Roberto Mei).

Rédemption is a very painstakingly made movie. Cinematographer Leblanc’s lens is clearly in love with Montreal, especially at night, and there are plenty of evocative cityscapes.

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More to the point, director Gauthier allows his story to take its own time. The moments of violence are rare and if anything underplayed; the drama of the tale lies not in those but in the development of the various central characters, and the movie most certainly has actors capable of depicting those characters in the kind of depth they deserve. Even someone as supposedly peripheral as the garage owner Gilles Mercier isn’t simply a shallow figure from central casting but is given a fully rounded depiction by Julien Poulin.

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Julien Poulin as Alain’s employer, Gilles.

I’ve mentioned above the complexity brought by Godin and Gauthier to the two brothers; we get the same from the women involved in their lives. Pilotte gives us a mother who has the grief and despair of decades written into the lines of her face; even her smiles and laughter seem conditional, temporary. O’Brien’s Sophie is no young glamor doll, as she might have been in a Hollywood version of Rédemption; she shows her years. And yet we can all too clearly understand why Alain is devoted to her, why he still finds her very beautiful—to the point that soon we’re seeing her through the filter of his devotion. Valérie Roy, who might seem to have the easier task as Danny’s young and pretty wife, likewise gives Karine a genuine personality: she’s no trophy but an intelligent human being.

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France Pilotte is splendid as the long suffering mother . . .

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. . . while Isabelle O’Brien likewise turns in a stellar performance as Sophie.

Aside from the fact that it’s made in French (hurrah for subtitles!), it’s hard to understand quite why Rédemption is really a forgotten piece. Although, as I’ve said, it’s relatively slow-moving, I at no point found myself wishing it would hurry along: Gauthier uses his 115 minutes wisely. I did have occasional doubts about the timeline of the story, but not so much as to cause any real distraction. The movie’s cause may not have been done any favors by the fact that the Jason Statham movie Hummingbird (2013), released in the same year, was retitled Redemption in North America. Even so, it’s strange that, aside from a screening at the Festival des Films du Monde in Montréal, Rédemption seems to have been released only to YouTube.

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This is a contribution to the O Canada! blogathon, co-hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy.

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16 thoughts on “Rédemption (2013)

  1. Yup, I think I’ll like this one, and I’m glad (but also a little sad) to see it’s on YouTube. At first I wondered if there would be more emphasis on violence than on the characters, but it sounds like it’s not the case. Judging by your review, it seems like a film that ought to be more well known. Thanks for bringing it to the blogathon! 🙂

  2. Pingback: #OCanada Blogathon Day 2 Recap – Silver Screenings

  3. It’s always intersting when you find something that runs along conventional rails but gets elevated without necessarily doing anything too special to earn that elevation. The sense of inevitability on this kind of story reminds me very much of a lot of George Pelecanos’ novels, but I was never that much fo a fan of Pelecanos because it always just seemed like he was circling a drain that everything would end up in as a matter of sheer inevitability and he never fought to do too much to challenge that (the same could be said of the Star Wars prequels…which is possibly an odd parallel to draw :D).

    I wonder if the timing of this meant that it ended up being largely neglected because it sounds so familiar and people already have a sense of exactly what they’re getting before it even begins. Which sounds like a real shame, because since everyone involved seems to have produced what sounds like a deliberate and nuanced piece of work it probably deserves a better fate…

    • Yes, the gets-out-of-prison-determined-to-go-straight-but-life-gets-in-the-way theme is indeed a well known trope in noir and noir-related movies (and indeed in written noir fiction), so in that sense you may be right: in order to find out why Rédemption is telling a tale that’s worth telling you have to actually watch it. On the other hand, the reason the basic plot has become a trope is that the relevant movies (and books) can do pretty well.

      With a lot of these tropes I tend to think of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Why is that? you might ask. Or, Are you bonkers? Thing is, I like Beethoven’s 6th quite a lot and so, when I come across a performance of it I haven’t heard before (e.g., Proms 2015), I listen to — in part just to hear it again but also to listen to how this particular conductor and orchestra have handled it. It’s the same story, if you like, but a different telling.

      For me, Rédemption is, for quite a number of reasons, among the better tellings of this particular story.

      • Well, given that I compared Pelecanos to the Star Wars prequels, I’m unlikley to draw issues with you Beethoven’s 6th analogy — I like it, it makes sense to me 🙂

        I shall attempt to free up the 115 minutes required to appreciate this, since you make me even more curious now; not saying it’ll happen any time soon, but I promise to do my best. Watch this space.

    • There are some great indie movies coming out of Canada. Glad to hear this one interests you.

      Thanks for being part of the blogathon

      More to the point, thanks to Ruth and yourself for taking on the mighty task of organizing it!

  4. Thanks for the link (though how weird that this is the legitimate release?). Interesting that JJ has brought Pelicans into this – not read anything by him in a couple of decades or more but …

    • how weird that this is the legitimate release?

      It’s not as unusual as you might think, to be honest. I guess if a movie fails to get a DVD deal, or whatever, it makes sense at least to have it out there so people can see it. See here, for example.

  5. Well, John, this is based on a an ever-fascinating subject, so I too lament it being a forgotten piece. As one who tries to go the extra nine yards to watch as much as possible each and every year I must confess this one eluded me too. But another stupendous piece of you in the service of sadly neglected cinema. No DVD deal is pretty sad.

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