“See How They Fall,” a deft interlocking tale of two small-time hoods and an unlikely avenger, is morally ambiguous and dosed with irony in the noir tradition. Dark, compelling helming debut by veteran scripter Jacques Audiard should do nicely at Gallic wickets and rack up healthy tube sales.
Carefully layered flashbacks, navigated via the sparing use of voiceover and lightly mocking title cards, propel this gritty character study-cum-thriller.
Simon Hirsch (Jean Yanne), a salesman having a bout of midlife apathy, reluctantly agrees to monitor a stakeout for his dashing younger pal, Mickey, a cop. When Mickey is rendered comatose in a cryptic shooting that the police have no interest in solving, Simon abandons his job, his wife (Bulle Ogier) and his routine to get to the bottom of the hit, finding a low-key vitality en route.
Story covers three years, but this fact will be lost on all but the most attentive viewers due to the pic’s elliptical, not unpleasing editing.
In a narrative realm pegged onscreen as “Well Before All This,” Marx (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a grizzled gambler and confirmed loner, ends up with adoring simpleton Johnny (Mathieu Kassovitz) in tow. Marx fails at turning him into a tough guy who can help him shake people down, but Johnny’s limited grasp of complex moral issues makes him an ideal hit man.
As Simon pursues his investigation in the present, Marx and Johnny forge their deadly partnership in the past. The two stories run parallel to each other until Simon’s sleuthing leads him to the dubious duo, whereupon the time frames converge.
Lead thesps, particularly Yanne, couldn’t be better in a script marbled with sardonic humor. Narrative structure is rich in telling, faintly ominous details. Photography is solid. Composer Alexandre Desplat’s sometimes jaunty, sometimes eerie themes are fitting.
Pic’s unsettling (but well-supported) moral appears to be that — depending on the circumstances — killing people can make one into a better-adjusted member of society.