'State Affairs'

A tough femme cop takes on a murderous web in Eric Valette's edgy but far-from-subtle thriller.

A tough femme cop takes on a murderous web of “State Affairs” in Eric Valette’s catchy, edgy but far-from-subtly helmed Gallic thriller. Adapted from Dominique Manotti’s novel about a string of killings linking an arms-dealing middleman to the upper echelons of French power, the script rattles off multiple plot twists like an AK-47 and then races along to an explosive finale. Still, attempts to create meaningful characters or to explore greater sociopolitical issues are quashed by overtaxed direction, while a weighty score drowns out the gunfire. After modest French release, affairs will be concluded in Euro ancillary.

There’s plenty going on in the fast-paced, MacGuffin-heavy screenplay by scribe duo Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier (“Welcome to the Sticks”). So much so, in fact, that things remain fairly murky throughout the opening segments and only pick up steam and interest during the pic’s more satisfying midsection.

Action begins with an underwhelming, CGI-rendered explosion of a plane over the Gulf of Guinea. The charter, which was transporting guns to Congo in exchange for eight French hostages, is the work of shadowy political player Victor Bornand (Andre Dussollier), who’s forced to cover up the affair with the help of his cagey hitman, Michel Fernandez (Thierry Fremont).

When the corpses start piling up, Nora (Rachida Brakni), a stubborn policewoman of Arab origin, begins investigating the unexplained murders. She soon gets wind of a vast government conspiracy that involves everyone from a hapless call girl (Elodie Navarre), a ruthless madame (Christine Boisson) and a wimpy defense contractor (Denis Podalydes) to the inner realms of the Elysee Palace.

Though the multiple plotlines and convoluted Franco-African dealings are hard to follow at points, the narrative eventually streamlines into a bloody game of cat and mouse that’s more engrossing than its participants or consequences. The chase culminates in a sizable standoff between cop and killer on Paris’ Butte Montmartre, making clever use of the neighborhood’s geography and tourist appeal.

Valette (“One Missed Call”) has a steady hand for action setpieces, but overdoes other sequences with throbbing closeups. Only minimal efforts are made at characterization. Nearly every scene is accompanied by composer Noko’s mushy harpsichord music, which kills off dramatic tension in the final reels.

Performances are decent, and Fremont (“Femme Fatale”) amusingly plays an assassin who becomes even more likable as his body count grows.

State Affairs

France

Production

A Mars Distribution release of a Les Chauves-Souris, Studio 37 production, in association with La Banque Postale Image 2, Cofiniova 5, Uni Etoile 6, with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star. (International sales: Studio 37/Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Eric Neve, Alexandra Swenden, Adrien Maigne. Directed by Eric Valette. Screenplay, Alexandre Charlot, Franck Magnier, based on the novel "Affairs of State" by Dominique Manotti.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Vincent Mathias; editor, Fabrice Rouad; music, Noko; production designer, Jean-Marc Tran Tran Ba; costume designer, Sophie Breton; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Didier Codoul, Gael Nicolas, Cyril Holtz; assistant director, Jean-Andre Silvestro; casting, Francis Rignault. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 2, Paris, Nov. 25, 2009. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Andre Dussollier, Thierry Fremont, Rachida Brakni, Christine Boisson, Gerald Laroche, Serge Hazanavicius, Eric Savin, Jean-Marie Winling, Jean-Michel Martial, Elodie Navarre, Laurent Bateau, Denis Podalydes.

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