French Canada is not known for producing many thrillers, which is why “Black List” comes as such a surprise. The debut feature from Montreal director Jean-Marc Vallee is a slick, fast-paced, sexy suspenser that owes more to Hitchcock than to the classic Quebec film canon.
This tale of sexual intrigue and corruption among the top lawyers, judges and cabinet ministers of Quebec will likely play well on its home turf, where it is set for wide commercial release Sept. 5. But pic is in many ways a fairly standard legal potboiler, and it is unlikely to garner the same theatrical interest internationally.
The film opens with a voice reading a legal charter. It turns out to be prostitute Gabrielle Angers (Genevieve Brouillette), who is exciting one of her courtroom clients with an odd blend of legalese and mild S&M. Just as the sex takes a turn toward the rough side, the police burst into the room and arrest both the hooker and the client, who is an appeals-court judge.
Another judge, Jacques Savard (Michel Cote), draws the unpleasant duty of presiding over the trial of his colleague, and his discomfort turns to extreme tension when the prostitute hands him her black list of clients, which includes several judges and at least one government official. She also happens to have explicit home videos of her encounters with these bigwigs.
The scheme is an attempt by Angers and her slimeball lawyer, played with relish by Denis Mercier, to blackmail the folks on the list. But the plan turns sour when her lawyer is brutally butchered in his home and someone attempts to murder her. Meanwhile, Judge Savard, portrayed as the one magistrate with principles, is under intense pressure from other judges not to make the list public.
Pic’s whodunit aspect revolves around trying to guess which powerful figure is pulling the strings to bring the investigation to a halt — and knocking off the trouble-makers.
The script from former lawyer Sylvain Guy makes for an entertaining if uninspired suspense film, and helmer Vallee, who also shoots a lot of TV commercials, keeps up a breakneck pace throughout, with no shortage of violent confrontations and steamy sex scenes.
One of the main drawbacks is lead thesp Cote, who fails to give too-good-to-be-true Judge Savard any real depth, and many of the supporting characters display the same sort of one-dimensional personality. Brouillette adds a welcome edge and large dollops of provocative screen appeal as the prostitute. Serge Arcuri and Luc Aubry’s score is suitably punchy, and all other tech credits are first-rate.