A creepily symbiotic relationship develops between a professional assassin and his mark in "The Killer," a modest but well-played debut by writer-director Cedric Anger that deserves sidebar exposure on the fest circuit.

A creepily symbiotic relationship develops between a professional assassin and his mark in “The Killer,” a modest but well-played debut by writer-director Cedric Anger that deserves sidebar exposure on the fest circuit. Strong performances make what sounds, on paper, like an improbable drama actually work on the bigscreen, though offshore it’s more likely to be a tube item. Locally, the Jan. 9 release took $330,000 in two weeks, reasonable considering its size.

A cool-faced hitman with a suitably foreign-sounding name, Kopas (Gregoire Colin), arrives in Paris and checks into a hotel, where he finds his target is middle-aged investment advisor Leo Zimmerman (Gilbert Melki). Kopas visits Leo in his office in the guise of a potential investor, and an immediate, dramatic resonance is established between the two, especially when Kopas follows Leo down in the elevator after work.

Married to Sylvia (Sophie Cattani), and with an 8-year-old daughter, Leo seems well off and happy enough on the surface, but is clearly a smart operator with hidden secrets. Anger, who co-wrote two powerful dramas with helmer Xavier Beauvois (“To Mathieu” and police procedural “Le petit lieutenant”), shows the same cool but intense attachment to his characters here, underlined by wintry, pre-Christmas lensing of stark Paris locations by veteran d.p. Caroline Champetier. Plenty is left vague about the nature of the killing contract, with dialogue sparingly used, but as the increasingly paranoid Leo suspects Kopas’ intent, he simply confronts him one night in a parking lot.Leo’s proposition involves him asking Kopas for a short delay in carrying out the contract so he can ready some money for his daughter, whom he dotes on. In the film’s one leap of faith that is difficult to take so early on, Kopas agrees — though he says he’ll kill the daughter, too, if Leo reneges on their agreement.

Plot does, however, develop some interesting angles when Kopas picks up an escort girl(Melanie Laurent) and the two spend some serious sack time together. As Kopas starts to lose his sense of professional detachment, it becomes unclear who’s really pulling the strings in the killer-victim relationship.

Anger doesn’t quite make the movie’s bold premise 100% believable, but generates enough character drama to hold attention across a tightly edited 94 minutes. Melki is very good as the outwardly confident businessman with nothing much to lose in life; ditto Colin as the suspicious loner assassin. Laurent, who only appears halfway through the movie, adds some welcome feminine warmth and holds her own against Colin. Beauvois guests in a small but crucial role.

The Killer

France

Production

A UGC Distribution release of a Sunrise Films presentation of a Sunrise Films, SBS Films production, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: UGC Intl., Paris.) Produced by Thomas Klotz, Said Ben Said. Directed, written by Cedric Anger.

Crew

Camera (color), Caroline Champetier; editor, Julien Leloup; music, Gregoire Hetzel; art director, Jeremie Duchier; costumes, Helena Goncalves; sound (DTS Stereo), Laurent Benaim, Pierre Andre, Thierry Delor; casting, Laure Cochener. Reviewed at UGC Georges V 7, Paris, Jan. 16, 2008. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Gilbert Melki, Gregoire Colin, Melanie Laurent, Sophie Cattani, Xavier Beauvois.
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