Un Crime (2006)

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A tale of single-minded obsession . . . but whose?
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vt A Crime
Canada / 99 minutes / color / ARP Sélection Dir: Manuel Pradal Pr: Michèle Pétin, Laurent Pétin Scr: Tonino Benacquista, Manuel Pradal Cine: Yorgos Arvanitis Cast: Harvey Keitel, Emmanuelle Béart, Norman Reedus, Joe Grifasi, Lily Rabe, Kim Director, Brian Tarantina, Patrick Collins, Chuck Cooper, Clem Cheung, Jonathan Lam, Ted Koch, Natalie Caron, Ben Wang, Stephen Payne, Memory Lee Cook, Karen Lynn Gorney.

In Brooklyn, Alice Parker (Béart) nurtures a powerful desire for the guy in the neighboring apartment, Vincent Harris (Reedus), but it’s an unrequited desire. All her attention-seeking behavior seems to be getting her nowhere.

Vincent (Norman Reedus) comes to bail out Alice (Emmanuelle Béart) after her latest DUI exploit.

Three years ago Vincent had a good job and a comfortable home outside New York, but late one night he got back to discover his wife Ashley (Director) brutally murdered. The only clue to her killer was that, as he approached the house, he saw an NYC yellow cab coming the other way; it had a big scrape along one side and its driver was wearing a bright red jacket and, on the ring finger of the left hand, a large stone or crystal. Later we’ll learn that Ashley had gone into NYC that day to buy Vincent a greyhound puppy as a surprise and, missing her last train home, had caught a cab at Grand Central. The cabby is the cops’ main suspect, but they’ve never been able to trace him. Finding him has been Vincent’s obsession ever since.

 Vincent (Norman Reedus) and Ashley (Kim Director) in happier days.

Now Vincent ekes out a living by entering the greyhound, Vicky, for illegal races along the Brooklyn shore. The rest of the time, he goes to places where cabbies congregate, hoping to pick up a clue. One such place is the Jackson Hole Diner, where the server, Sophie (Rabe), clearly rather fancies him and keeps her eyes and ears open on his behalf.

Alice realizes that, until the case is solved, Vincent’s never going to get over Ashley and her love will be doomed. So she picks up middle-aged cabby Roger Culkin (Keitel) and inveigles her way into his life using the obvious means:

Roger: “If it’s trashy is what you’re after, I can provide that. But on a first date it’s better to be a little romantic. Don’t you think?”
Alice: “No. I think it’s better to be trashy right away.”

Roger (Harvey Keitel) is amazed by the beauty of his latest fare.

Every now and then Roger pauses to wonder why a total babe like Alice might have suddenly thrown herself at a plain-faced jerk like him, twice her age, but he has such an over-inflated opinion of himself and is sufficiently enlusted that such moments of introspection don’t arrive often or last long. And he suspects nothing when Alice—filled in on the details of the case by friendly NYPD detective Bill Winner (Grifasi)—scrapes the side of his taxi against a fire hydrant and gives him a red jacket and a ring with a large stone.

Detective Bill Winner (Joe Grifasi) goes out of his way to help Alice (Emmanuelle Béart) investigate the cold case.

The only task left to her is to make sure Roger runs into Vincent. This done, she stands back to let vengeance take its course. At the very last minute she has remorse, and tries to persuade Roger to escape, but he’s not going to listen to any damn’ woman.

By now we’re aware that Roger isn’t quite the good-natured jerk we might have thought—“I don’t take Chinks,” he tells Vincent proudly—and so, when he follows Vincent into a Chinese gambling den and gets beaten to within an inch of his life, it’s not quite as upsetting as it might have been.

Vincent stuffs the barely conscious cabby into the trunk of his own cab, then drives the vehicle down to the river and, after some thought, into it. We can hear Roger cursing and thumping as the waters close over the vehicle.

Norman Reedus as Vincent.

Alice has to accept that Vincent is a murderer, but she gets over it pretty quickly in the joys of their love—and, after all, in a sense she’s a murderer too. But then, one day as they’re picnicking . . .

Roger’s great passion, aside from Alice, was his boomerang, in the throwing of which he was quite improbably skilled. (I doubt that even an Australian could keep the thing in the air as long as the movie depicts him doing.) He used to show off his boomeranging prowess to Alice, and so, as she looks up from the picnic to see a boomerang twirling against the backdrop of Manhattan skyscrapers, she’s immediately convinced that somehow Roger escaped death.

Emmanuelle Béart as Alice.

She’s right. And it’s at this point that what has hitherto been a fairly standard psychological thriller really begins to pick up interest . . . while at the same time, alas, rather losing its way, because it starts heading toward a hackneyed plot-twist that had me groaning in frustration. It’s actually worth enduring the plot-twist for the sake of the movie’s final resolution, where our characters are left in a deliciously noirish moral swamp that reminded me very much of some of Claude Chabrol’s work—as did the movie as a whole.

The logical underpinning of Un Crime doesn’t bear too much inspection. Alice has no job outside a community-service sentence for drunk driving, yet apparently has plenty of money. I’m pretty certain that NYPD cops don’t go out of their way to tell strangers the details of their cold cases. As one of the characters points out, after three years the cabby will have had the scratch beaten out of the vehicle side, or will likely have gotten himself a new cab. Roger’s face, beaten to a pulp by Vincent’s pals, bears no trace of injury just a few days later. And in the later stages there’s an absurdity so egregious that I’m amazed it wasn’t written out of the script—the movie’s denouement would actually work better without it.

Yorgos Arvanitis’s camera has a love affair with NYC and its surrounds.

But movies don’t necessarily have to be credible to satisfy, and I think this one just about gets away with it. It’s helped a lot by some lovely location camerawork in and around NYC, and by the performances of the three principals. (Aside from Grifasi’s, all the other roles are little more than bit parts.) I’m not normally much of a fan of Keitel’s acting, but director Manuel Pradal here manages to coax out of him a turn of some nuance and subtlety, reflecting the occasional moments of cheesy lyricism the screenplay gives him: “In the harsh light you’ve got sadness written all over you.” Béart is magnetic to the camera as the manipulative femme fatale intent on godgaming both the men in her life in order to get what she wants, while Reedus delivers the kind of turn that, as always in roles like this, shows he’s capable of so much more than his usual stereotyping.

Un Crime is a flawed movie, make no mistake. But it’s also a really quite engaging one.

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11 thoughts on “Un Crime (2006)

    • I can imagine you’d enjoy this one a very great deal — always difficult to guess such things for other people, but I’d think this one was likely right up your street.

    • That’s the trouble with so many modern Canadian movies: people have never heard of them . . . primarily because the US industry ignores them. Imagine the reception a US movie with this cast would have had — who knows if the critics would have liked it, but at least it’d have been prominently reviewed in all the obvious places. [/rant]

      I know what you mean about Beart. *sigh*

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