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Variety Reviews “Espion(s)”

Variety has posted their review of Espion(s), the French espionage thriller Sid filmed last year. WARNING: Spoilers!

Espion(s) (France)

A Mars Distribution release of a the Film, Studio 37, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: Studio 37/Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Michael Gentile. Directed, written by Nicolas Saada.

With: Guillaume Canet, Geraldine Pailhas, Stephen Rea, Hippolyte Girardot, Archie Panjabi, Vincent Regan, Alexander Siddig.
(French, English dialogue)

A moody London-set thriller in which the thrills are more about bedrooms than bullets, Gallic-helmed “Spy(ies)” dips its USB key into the romantic side effects of international espionage, to partially satisfying effect. French heartthrob Guillaume Canet (who directed hit “Tell No One”) stars as a scrappy underachiever-turned-secret agent who seduces an expat housewife to thwart an attack of those infamous “bottle bombs” that make toiletry packing so annoying nowadays. Debut feature by critic-cum-filmmaker Nicolas Saada opened to strong local reviews and B.O. and should deftly infiltrate local theaters, with additional overseas missions a strong possibility.

As a throwback to atmospheric ’70s thrillers like “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor,” pic scores with its bluesy tone, somber setpieces and existentially downtrodden protags. But as a modern-day cloak-and-dagger tale about the world of intelligence operatives and jihad emissaries, it lacks the nuts and bolts needed to make its narrative plausible.

For its first hour or so, the scenario intrigues with a plot that takes off in surprising fashion: When his colleague is killed by an exploding perfume bottle filched from a diplomatic pouch, airport luggage inspector Vincent (Canet) is coerced by a slimy French undercover agent (Hippolyte Girardot) to travel to London and identify the bag’s carriers.

His mission quickly becomes a seductive one when local MI5 contact Palmer (Stephen Rea) informs Vincent that he needs to start sexing up Claire (vet Geraldine Pailhas), the housewife of a shady Brit pharmaceutical exec (Vincent Regan) with links to the terrorists.

The action here shifts gears from spy thriller to a very French two-hander, with a focus on Claire’s dwindling resistance to Vincent’s charms. Soon after, it shifts again toward an explosive finale that overdoes the CGI effects, but underplays on the reality and originality fronts.

Though the attempt to combine an intimate drama with a story ripped from today’s headlines has its merits, writer-helmer Saada is less convincing when dealing with contemporary spydom then when handling his protags’ wayward romance.

Both Canet and Pailhas provide powerful turns that underline the loneliness of their characters, with Canet adding a few welcome touches of humor. As the main brain behind the terrorists, Sudanese-born actor Alexander Siddig (“Syriana”) offers a strong supporting presence.

D.p. Stephane Fontaine (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”) skillfully uses long lenses and soft, natural lighting to bring out the gray and gloomy London settings. A handheld-camera sequence of the couple’s first hotel-room encounter is both exquisitely framed and expertly paced.

Electric guitar-fueled score by Cliff Martinez (“Narc,” “Traffic”) is another element that adds to pic’s overall brooding ambience.

About Mel

Mel started a fan site for Siddig in 1996, as a way to learn HTML and to promote his charitable endeavors. In 1998, he proposed that it become his official fan site; she quickly agreed and a long-distance friendship was born. You can reach Mel at mel[at]sidcity[dot]net.