Director: Eric Lartigau
Cast: Romain Duris, Marina Fois, Niels Arestrup
Running time: 114 minutes (French with English subtitles)
By Robert O’ Reilly
Partner in a Parisian law firm and living in bourgeois luxury with his wife and two cute kids, Paul Exben’s (Romain Duris) life seems to have everything going for it. However, all is perhaps not as it seems in Paul’s comfortable-on-the-surface lifestyle, as he begins to suspect his wife of having an affair with one of their neighbours, a freelance photographer.
Confronting the neighbour and getting into a scuffle with him, Paul accidentally skewers the man on a broken glass bottle. Deciding against handing himself into the nearest police station, Exben sets about dispatching the man’s body and then precedes to take over the identity of his wife’s now ex-lover. Pretending to be his dead neighbour, Exben heads over to the Adriatic coast in the former Yugoslavia to do a photo-shoot that the man had scheduled.
Acquiring accommodation in a small fishing village there, Exben starts on his new career as a photographer (and having some incredible bouts of luck along the way it has to be said), is soon wooing the locals with his grim but fascinating gallery portraits. Afraid of having his photo taken for fear of being noticed by the police, it appears Paul has picked the wrong career-path for staying hidden from the public eye and it’s not long before he sets his sights on a new location. How much you enjoy The Big Picture (based on Trinity graduate Douglas Kennedy’s novel of the same name), really hinges on whether you accept the central premise of the movie, namely that the main character, a bourgeois businessman who often appears emotionally unstable and ready to break down crying at any given moment, would be capable of calculatedly covering up a manslaughter and, chameleon-like, taking over the deceased man’s identity.
The film is beautifully lensed and the acting (especially that of Duris but also Marina as his sick-of-it-all wife) is a notch above average, but this Gallic take on The Bourne Identity certainly requires some massive leaps of faith from the viewer, and there are also some extremely prominent plot-holes that you could probably drive a Citroen through. If you are willing to accept these, this film might well be an interesting and rewarding viewing experience, as it does deliver in the narrative tension and what-would-I-do-in-this-situation stakes. Also in the film’s favour are its sly digs at French society, that seem to suggest that while on the surface everything might appear hunky dory (at least if you’re rich and successful anyhow), on the inside there might well be a major identity crisis just waiting, Hyde-like, to burst out.
The Big Picture, although entertaining for its near two-hour running time, unfortunately, like its view of French society, often looks good on the surface but is a little bit hollow at the core.