You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘My Son’

A convincing Guillaume Canet channels his inner Liam Neeson as a father searching for his kidnapped son in French director Christian Carion’s generic thriller.

Christian Carion
Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist
Release Date:
May 3, 2019

Official Site: http://cohenmedia.net/films/myson

Director Christian Carion and his frequent star Guillaume Canet show off their very particular sets of skills in “My Son” (“Mon garçon”), a polished, if mechanical, vigilante thriller that attempts to combine the psychological deep dive of Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” with the adrenaline shot of Pierre Morel’s “Taken.” Falling well short of those superior films, this limited-release offering — which did modest business when it opened in France back in 2017 — squanders a compelling performance by top-billed Canet, playing an absentee father searching for his kidnapped son in the mountains of southeast France. Themes of parental guilt and the effects of broken families on children are hinted at early but discarded in favor of genre pleasures, which Carion provides to increasingly formulaic effect.

“My Son” is Carion’s fifth feature and his first in a contemporary setting since his 2001 César-nominated debut, “The Girl from Paris.” Since then, he’s tackled World War I (Oscar-nominee “Merry Christmas,” also starring Canet), World War II (“Come What May”), and the Cold War (“Farewell,” Canet again). He has a knack for finding fascinating true stories, then treating them with a bloodless professionalism that never wholly fulfills their promise. That’s also the problem in this original story, despite Carion’s unconventional shooting strategy: “My Son” was shot in only six days, and Canet was never given a script, only a six-page character outline and a green light to improvise. This winds up being the best creative idea the movie has to offer, although most audiences will wonder how such a risky concept resulted in such a generic thriller.

Whether Canet’s performance would have been demonstrably less effective without this approach we’ll never know, but he notably drops his eternally boyish good looks to chart the emotional descent of Julien, a geologist who bailed on his marriage and his son for a job that often takes him abroad. Julien hasn’t seen his 7-year-old son Mathys (Lino Papa) since the previous summer, but he arrives in the French town of Autrans after learning that the son has mysteriously disappeared during a camping trip.

Working from a script co-written with Laure Irrmann (who also co-wrote “Come What May”), Carion sets up the dramatically-promising notion that Julien’s guilt over his decision to “give priority to my work over my role as a father” is the spark that ignites his increasingly frantic desire to find his son. Piling on is Julien’s ex-wife Marie (Mélanie Laurent, a real asset in her handful of scenes), who suggests it takes “more than a birthday card or a gift in the post” to be a dad. Marie has since moved on with Grégoire (Olivier de Benoist) who plans to start his own family with Marie and is curiously unmoved by the disappearance of Mathys.

All this thematic pipe-laying and character work, however, gets tossed as Carion’s sole focus becomes Julien’s increasingly improbable one-man investigation. Ignoring police admonitions to stay out of the way, Julien goes it alone, revealing himself to be quite the detective, scrubbing through video footage, busting into homes and torturing a suspect with a blowtorch before skulking around the bad guy’s mountain lair for the final showdown.

It would be easier to ignore the ridiculous speed and ease with which Julien gets to the bottom of things if the reason behind Mathys’ disappearance was even remotely interesting or Carion had gifted us with the primal satisfaction of watching our hero get medieval. But his sensibilities are too conventional for that and opportunities to make us question our allegiance to a vigilante or imagine ourselves in Julien’s shoes are ignored.

Along with Canet (who directed the far-better French thriller “Tell No One”), key below-the-line contributors keep us in the game. Documentary-honed DP Eric Dumont’s handheld camera provides an almost constant sense of danger and uncertainty, while the darkly-textured score by Laurent Perez del Mar (“The Red Turtle”) helps insure that tension remains high even as interest wanes.

Neither a bracing blast of vigilante pleasure nor an absorbing character piece, “My Son” is most notable for being Carion’s second straight film about a father’s desperate search for his son. One hopes that whatever compelled him to hang two movies on such a depressing premise can be worked out in therapy.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'My Son'

Reviewed online, Paris, April 25, 2019. Running time: 85 min. (Original title: “Mon garcon”)

Production: (France) A Cohen Media Group (in U.S.), Diaphana (in France) release of a Nord-Ouest Films, Une Hirondelle Prods., Canéo Films, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, CN6 Prods. production, with the participation of OCS, in association with Palatine Étoile 14, Sofitvciné 4, Soficinéma 13, with the participation of Artémis Prods., La Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes du CNC, in association with Diaphana, Wild Bunch. Producers: Christophe Rossignon, Philip Boëffard. Co-producers: Christian Carion, Guillaume Canet.

Crew: Director: Christian Carion. Screenplay: Christian Carion, Laure Irrmann. Camera (color, widescreen): Eric Dumont. Editor: Loïc Lallemand. Music: Laurent Perez Del Mar

With: Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist, Antoine Hamel, Mohamed Brikat, Lino Papa, Marc Robert, Pierre Langlois, Tristan Pagès, Christophe Rossignon, Pierre Desmaret.

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. More Reviews Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or Be Kind’ TV Review: 'A Little [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content