A young management consultant faced with downsizing a firm finds his beliefs challenged in “Work Hard Play Hard,” a kind of New Economy update to Bertrand Tavernier and Ken Loach’s more obviously left-wing films about the ills of capitalism. Pic displays an impressive maturity and lightness of touch from helmer Jean-Marc Moutout, making his feature debut after some similar social-issue works. Given the growing recognition factor of star Jeremie Renier (“The Promise,” “Brotherhood of the Wolf”) and its contempo theme, film could have a small career with upscale auds, particularly in Europe.
Fresh-faced biz-school grad Philippe Seigner (Renier) hooks up with single-mom secretary Eva (Cylia Malki) after saving her from being groped on the Paris metro. Principled but ambitious, Philippe has just started working for the Paris branch of MacGregor, a management consulting firm whose motto is the movie’s title. Philippe’s boss, Hugo Paradis (Laurent Lucas), a sharkish go-getter from a disadvantaged background like Philippe, chooses the young pup to help him conduct an audit of Jansen, a manufacturing concern in an unnamed town south of Paris. Jansen’s owner secretly wants to sell the company; MacGregor’s task is to ascertain who can be downsized from the staff to make it a more attractive asset.
When Paradis leaves Philippe in charge of interviewing the staff and reviewing their efficiency, Philippe realizes he shouldn’t get close to anyone at Jansen. He confides a bit in human resources manager Suzanne (Martine Chevallier), who sees the writing on the wall for herself and her co-workers. Meanwhile, Philippe’s burgeoning relationship with Eva also comes under strain due to his commute and work pressures.
Moved by the staff’s personal problems and hurt by their hostility, especially from production manager Manin (Olivier Perrier), Philippe finds his resolve buckling. But realizing that to throw in the towel would be the ruin of his own career, Philippe resolves to see the audit through. The decision will change him profoundly, just as the looming redundancies will reshape the lives of all Jansen’s employees.
Where a French filmmaker from an older generation might have made a more strident, polemical film, Moutout, along with co-scripters Olivier Gorce and Jejou Herzog, offers a New Millennium shrug in the face of seemingly undefeatable globalization and market forces. There’s as much sympathy for the upwardly mobile hero’s plight as there is for the workers and management, who must each come to terms with the changes.
However, the writers’ meticulous investigation of the varying p.o.v.s slows the drama, especially toward the end. Film concludes with a bitter, quizzical whimper instead of the expected bang.
Still, perfs are uniformly strong, with standout playing from Chevallier and Samir Guesmi as the staff cook at Jansen, and especially from the vastly likable Renier, whose character has the steepest emotional arc.
Marie-Helene Mora’s crafty editing keeps the midsection ticking, with a vast quantity of information about the company and characters needing to be absorbed by Philippe and the audience. Claude Garnier’s often gritty, handheld lensing is light on its feet and in tune with the subtle contrasts of Andre Fonsny’s production design (warm colors for Eva’s apartment, cool palettes for the factory and MacGregor offices).
Original French title roughly translates as “Violent Exchanges in a Temperate Zone.” Film was shot at a variety of southern French locations, including Lyon.