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Three Blind Mice

Things go downhill fast for an American computer specialist in London after he witnesses a murder live via Webcam. Effective dramatic urgency can't completely rescue elaborate but far-fetched thriller. Good punchline is undercut by a scattered and outlandishly expedient final reel, but Franco-British co-prod is never less than watchable.

Cast:
Thomas Cross - Edward Furlong Claire Bligh - Emilia Fox Mark Hayward - Chiwetel Ejiofor Nathalie Cross - Elsa Zylberstein

Things go downhill fast for an American computer specialist in London after he witnesses a murder live via Webcam in “Three Blind Mice.” Pro thesping and an effective sense of dramatic urgency can’t completely rescue elaborate but far-fetched thriller. Good punchline is undercut by a scattered and outlandishly expedient final reel, but Franco-British co-prod — which opened Oct. 8 in Gaul — is never less than watchable.

When not working as the tech administrator for a London firm, Tom (Edward Furlong) watches the output of the webcams he’s planted at work for his personal amusement and communicates via email with folks who have put their own daily lives on the Web for anonymous real-time scrutiny. Tom is watching one such site, run by a woman named Cathy, when he’s abruptly denied access.

With some telephone help, Tom breaks through the firewall in time to witness a ski-masked man enter Cathy’s home, attack and kill her. Distraught, Tom dials the police but he doesn’t know where Cathy lives or if that’s even her real name.

When the woman is found dead in Amsterdam, Tom, as the lone witness, is a prime suspect for the London police. British cybercrime detective Claire (Emilia Fox) is called back from her posting in Paris to help with the investigation, which her superiors seem increasingly reticent about solving.

When a lead close to Tom is murdered and a cop wounded on a stakeout, Claire is pulled off the case. But she’s hooked on finding out what’s going on and, in the best movie cop tradition, has some vacation time saved so she can continue investigating independently. Claire teams up with Tom and renegade hacker Mark (Chiwetel Ejiofor from “Dirty Pretty Things”). Their research leads them to believe that while there’s money in manipulating images, manipulating people is even more lucrative.

London setting and widescreen lensing function nicely for French helmer Mathias Ledoux (“En Face”). It’s worth noting that England apparently pioneered public surveillance cameras. Furlong does a fine turn as the boyish and slightly haunted computer nerd, relative newcomer Fox is appealingly authoritative, and Ejiofor convinces despite minimal screen time.

But layers of power and intrigue overwhelm the proceedings. As a result, a powerful premise is diminished by coincidental developments that strain credulity and turn a brave new world of unthinkable transgression into another caper pic with a grisly twist.

To pic’s credit, scenes involving computers and computer screens are handled as if keyboard maneuvers could yield needed results. Score — not unlike the script it serves — ranges from just right to overly emphatic.

Three Blind Mice

France - U.K.

Production: A Kcraft & Co. release of a Kcraft & Co., Les Films Caldera de Fante, Une Souris Verte Ltd., Take 4 co-production with the participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Beyond Films, Australia.) Produced by Guillaume Godard, Mathias Ledoux, Maryvonne Le Meur, Keith Evans. Executive producers, Emma Hayter, Sharon Menzies. Directed by Mathias Ledoux. Screenplay, Mikael Ollivier. Story, Ollivier, Raymond Clarinard, based on Olliver's novel "Trois Souris Aveugles."

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Stephane Le Parc; editor, Jennifer Auge; music, Eric Neveux; production designer, Ian Watson; costume designers, Nigel Egerton, Anja Mai; sound (Dolby), Alan O'Duffy, Vincent Arnardi; associate producers, Carolyn Caldera, Jean Luc De Fanti; assistant director, Gareth Unwin; casting, Toby Whale, Joan McCann. Reviewed at Dinard Festival of British Cinema, France, Oct. 2, 2003. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: Thomas Cross - Edward Furlong Claire Bligh - Emilia Fox Mark Hayward - Chiwetel Ejiofor Nathalie Cross - Elsa ZylbersteinWith: Valerie Decobert, Ben Miles, Philip Witchurch, Peter Wight, Craig Kelly, James Laurenson. (English dialogue)

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