In the intelligently lensed and rigorously authentic "Fred," the groundwork is beautifully laid but the intrigue just isn't that intriguing. Talented writer-director Pierre Jolivet, whose "Force Majeure" (1988) and "Simple Mortel" (1991) were standouts in their depiction of people confronted with impossibly hard choices, pays tribute to the self-reliance and resilience of the common working man without interjecting the something extra that might encourage overflow crowds to part with the price of a movie ticket. Pic seems more likely to be a critical than a commercial success. In a depressing prefab 'burb beyond Paris, skilled but unemployed crane operator Fred (Vincent Lindon) enjoys solid relationships with Lisa (Clotilde Courau) and her 5-year-old son, but has little else going for him except his dignity and his longstanding friendship with neighbor Michel (Stephane Jobert).
Fred, Michel and 200 other guys in the vicinity used to work for a local factory that shut down after a workers strike in which Fred apparently played an important role. Lisa works as a receptionist at a medical lab while Fred mostly kills time. When Michel asks Fred to drive a truck to a specific location and leave it there, Fred does his pal the favor.
Soon after, one of Fred’s former colleagues is killed by thugs, and circumstantial evidence points to Fred. A wry local cop (Francois Berleand) is eager to find Fred, who eludes the police until matters come to a head.
Thesps are fine, with special praise for Lindon, Courau and scene-stealing Berleand. Workaday atmosphere is sharply conveyed via spot-on dialogue and production design. Yet, for all its qualities, pic registers mostly as one more portrait of working-class reality in which economic necessity brings out both the best and the worst in people. It’s hardly news that corrupt individuals may gain an additional foothold and otherwise good men may be tempted to make questionable choices when times are hard. “Fred” underlines the struggle without pushing the envelope.