It’s a slippery slope for all involved in “White as Snow,” an adequately pitched but choppily executed Gallic thriller that skirts off track as it slaloms toward the finish line. Revisiting the kind of role he handled better in “Tell No One,” Francois Cluzet stars as a successful car dealer whose life takes a deadly turn when — without warning (or narrative logic) — he finds himself at the mercy of Finnish gangsters who want his money and more. Strong supporting performances and atmospheric filmmaking by helmer Christophe Blanc (“An Outgoing Woman”) save the film from slushiness, but won’t cause B.O. blizzards.
Budgeted at €6.5 million ($8.8 million), “Snow” has thus far underperformed in France, scoring only 125,000 admissions since its March 17 release. Some offshore bookings in Francophone territories are probable, and there’s even remake potential here — though rewrites are definitely what’s needed first.
The premise is encouraging: Maxime (Cluzet) is a luxury car salesman with a huge mansion, a gorgeous and sensitive wife (Louise Bourgoin, compelling), and two scrappy brothers (Olivier Gourmet, Jonathan Zaccai) who seem fairly harmless on the surface. When his suave but shady partner, Simon (Bouli Lanners, formidable), dies in what’s definitely not an accident, and a band of Finnish tough guys begin harassing him about faulty products and unpaid debts, Maxime finds himself backed into a corner.
Why he doesn’t go to the police (“I have a wife” is his improbable explanation — meaning, one assumes, that she’ll be upset if he loses his fortune and winds up in jail) and instead decides to ask his brothers for help is the first of several boneheaded decisions on the part of Maxime and, by extension, co-scribes Blanc and Roger Bohbot (“Kings and Queen”). When efforts to deter the goons lead to a botched and bloody mess, Maxime continues to act outside the law, making things substantially worse.
It’s hard to support a character whose actions inspire zero confidence from the start, and though Cluzet initially portrays Maxime with a stoical smoothness, his performance heads toward hysterics in the closing reels. The same is true for Belgian thesps Gourmet and Zaccai, whose three-way shouting matches with Maxime soon become unbearable, and convey the impression that Blanc lost control of his cast.
Despite its pitfalls, pic maintains a certain aesthetic rigor due in large part to naturalistic lensing by d.p. Laurent Brunet (“Seraphine”) and concise cutting by editor Guy Lecorne (“White Material”). A few action sequences — especially a riveting faceoff in a parking garage — showcase what Blanc is capable of when his movie isn’t running away from him.