Carving out a nice character actor type career in Hollywood, French actor Vincent Cassel is the real thing in France. He is the star in films he does in his home country. Working since the late 80s he has earned the right be called a film star. Time and time again he turns in solid performances. His Francois Visconti in Erick Zonca’s (Le Petit Voleur, Julia) film Fleuve Noir is one of his more nuanced and, as such, demanding characters. It demands much of the actor or Visconti would be relegated to a one note type bloke. In Cassel’s hands a character who might just be hated because of his gruff manners becomes someone you are invested in. Instead he becomes one you are increasingly interested in, wanting to see what he does yet and as the film goes on feeling more and more sorry for.
Detective Francois Visconti (Vincent Cassel – Jason Bourne, Black Swan), who is a barely functioning alcoholic separated from his wife, has his hands full with his own teenage son (Felix Back – first film), when he gets assigned a case involving a teenage boy who has disappeared. Not really sure if there is foul play involved or the boy just ran away, Visconti begins his investigation. As the father is away on work, he focuses his interviews on the boy’s mother Solange (Sandrine Kiberlain – Cyrano de Bergerac, Floride) and her mentally challenged daughter Marie (Laurena Thellier – Le Ciel Attendra, Ma Loute).
During the course of spending time at the family’s apartment he runs into a man living in the same building who he finds out through conversation is a teacher and used to tutor the missing teen. Yann Bellaile (Romain Duris – Moliere, L’arnacoeur). Bellaile tells Visconti, even though he was no longer tutoring the boy, that he believes he ran away to escape the oppressive atmosphere of his home. Whatever the truth is, Visconti does realize that the teacher is rather interested in the case wanting to talk about it all the time. This raises the veteran detective’s red flags.
When the father (Jerome Pouly – Le Geutteur, Vendredi Soir), who works on ships, finally returns Visconti, who has gotten unnaturally close to Solange, gets to interrogate him. Nothing much helpful is learned. The investigation does not point to a case of runaway or the boy turning to a terrorist group like ISIS, so kidnapping is the only remaining option.
Visconti really likes Bellaile for the crime. After tailing him for a bit and interviewing his wife (Elodie Bouchez – La Vie Revee des Anges, Les Roseaux Sauvages), Visconti is sure he has his man. Believes that there was something either sexual or infatuation going on between the teen and his tutor. He begins to tail Bellaile hoping to catch him in something incriminating. His single mindedness (and his drinking) gets him demoted from lead investigator on the case, but still he plugs on. It is a cat and mouse game that Visconti and Bellaile are playing. Everyone involved in the disappearance seems to have their judgement clouded and have secrets to hide.
Being of the film noir genre the film can fall into being a little too over the top at times, but that is kept to a minimum for the most part. Zonca, having not made a film for about a decade, keeps things dark and moody. Tension is kept calibrated at the right level to keep the viewer on your toes emotionally and mentally.
All that Zonca attempts with his film (he also co-adapted it from a novel by Dror Mishani) is aided ably by his lead actor. Cassel, though not subtle in his approach, is an incredibly watchable actor. He has found an up to the task dancing partner in Romain Duris. For each part of Visconti/Cassel and Bellaile/Duris’s dance they demonstrate themselves to be viable foes.
At times the story goes on a little too long or is a little too much. Then there are several twists towards the end that piled up one on top of the other seem a little improbable and kinda thrown in. Still, because Cassel is so skilled and the premise is generally cool, you keep with it.