Romain Duris may just be one of the likeable men working in film today. Last year’s Heartbreaker saw him play a professional relationship wrecker but thanks to a bucket load of charisma, he still managed to be extremely likeable.
He’s on equally good form in The Big Picture in which he plays Paul Exben, a dedicated family man and successful Parisian lawyer about to be given ownership of the company by his terminally ill boss (Catherine Deneuve). Paul’s life is changed forever when his wife Sarah (Marina Fois) demands a divorce and he realises that she’s been seeing Greg, an arrogant bohemian photographer.
He goes to Greg’s apartment to confront him about the affair but things rapidly spiral out of control and in the ensuing scuffle he accidentally kills him. Panicking but resolved not to be caught or condemn his children to having a murderer for a father, Paul steals Greg’s identity before hiding the body, faking his own death and leaving the country for former Yugoslavia.
He tries to keep a low profile but his passion for photography gets him noticed by the hard-drinking newspaper editor Bartholomé (Niels Arestrup), who becomes his professional mentor and he starts a relationship with his co-worker Ivana (Branka Katic). As he becomes more successful, he tries to balance the love of his work (something that he never had working as lawyer) with the risk of exposure as his portraits become better known.
Duris is once again on superb form as Paul Exben and has great chemistry with all the leads. Thanks to him, Exben remains a sympathetic and likeable character. While director Eric Lartigau keeps the tension ratcheted up and the pace rattling along nicely; though he wisely concentrates primarily on the story of a man trying to recreate his life.
It’s just a shame that the film requires that you suspend disbelief on such a huge scale, that it’s hard not to see past the numerous plot holes. Paul gets away with the murder and theft of Greg identity far too easily and the emotional connection he has with his children seems at odds with the speed at which he abandons them.
The film is based on a novel written in 1997 before Google made it easy to find almost anyone in less than a minute and even though the modern day version gamely tries to explain why he’s never recognised, it also fails to convince. In addition, the final act is extremely muddied and leads to an ending which is far from satisfying. Regardless, it’s a slick and stylish thriller with strong performances, let down by the naked implausibility of its script.