Love Crime - SideReel Review
Yuppie thrillers with escalating acts of tit-for-tat revenge at the center can be satisfying entertainment, though well-made examples are actually difficult to think of. It’s much easier to drum up a list of stinkers in this subgenre, that either grow ridiculous and overblown (Roger Michell’s Changing Lanes), or start off on the right foot and lose the courage of their convictions, forking off in another direction midway in lieu of seeing the characters’ vices through to the bitter end (Curtis Hanson’s Bad Influence).
Alain Corneau’s final film -- the corporate nail-biter Love Crime -- suffers from the same weakness as the Hanson picture. Though it begins tantalizingly, with a sadomasochistic rivalry between two female executives, an unexpected left turn at the halfway point ruins the movie’s initial promise.
Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Christine, a diabolical executive at a French agribusiness firm. Her sole ambition involves climbing the corporate ladder via a series of multinational deals, and she will stop at nothing to get her way. The weapons in her arsenal of manipulation include bisexual seduction, blackmail, bribery, flattery, and intimidation, but her fondest tool is her immediate subordinate, wallflower Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), a brilliant but unassertive young woman whose ideas she routinely takes credit for -- and with whom she shares a lover, drug-addicted executive Philippe (Patrick Mille). When one of Isabelle’s colleagues strokes her ego and triggers some indignation by pointing out Christine’s cruelties, Isabelle decides to take the reins and undercut Christine by setting up a new project, which robs the older woman of a coveted promotion to Manhattan. Naturally, this makes Christine seethe with rage and appears to be setting the stage for a vile game of one-upsmanship between the two.
Because we can see how unremittingly cruel and malicious Christine is, and catch hints of the fact that Isabelle is only beginning to emerge from her shell, the film should hold the audience in a tighter and tighter grip as it rolls forward, but that isn’t the case here; as it stands, the payoff is much less fascinating than the setup. One of the earliest tip-offs that the movie is going astray has to do with the fact that it misjudges the characters’ responses. For instance, when Christine plays a nasty and cruel prank on Isabelle with a security camera, it loses its impact because Isabelle’s initial reaction seems excessively histrionic and phony, and the nastiness of Isabelle’s actions isn’t palpable or extreme enough. The camera bit also seems derivative, and that hurts the film as well -- it recalls Bad Influence, which has a variation on the same prank but delivers a much greater impact given its extreme cruelty.
Another problem is tied to the fact that aside from these early events, the expected escalation between the executives never really pans out. The movie incorporates a very Hitchcockian twist about midway through that drains the narrative of much of its suspense. By relegating one of his central characters to a footnote, the director/co-writer loses the tone of the picture entirely. The later sections turn into an Ira Levin-like narrative puzzle, where we can foresee the outcome 30 minutes ahead of time, and the only real question becomes, "How will Corneau get there?" He does so by giving the audience the vaguest hints about what is transpiring, and then repeatedly flashing back in time to fill in the gaps. There is a certain structural cleverness to these passages, but it all feels terribly hollow in retrospect, and doesn’t for a second ring true or credible. Scott Thomas and Sagnier each deliver strong performances, but with diminishing returns as the picture rolls forward.