The Big Picture (L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie) – Movie Review

Great photography and a vibrant performance by Romain Duris barely keep this lead-footed psycho-drama afloat.

Eric Lartigau’s break through psychological thriller owes most of its success to the performance of Romain Duris, the perpetual bad boy of French Cinema. The reluctant delinquent in “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” steps over the line, again, in this murder mystery that ends with the perpetrator making crime pay, and successfully punishing himself at the same time.

Duris plays Paul Exben, the co-owner of one of Paris’ most exclusive law firms. He makes millions in fees with the deft touch of his hand on the errant cheek of a spoiled heir. His partner is Catherine Deneuve (who else?) who announces she is going to die soon and leave the entire company to Paul. So, he will go from being a multi-millionaire to a near-billionaire.

The perfect family surrounds Paul and his perfect set of friends, everybody jolly with the best food and wine money can buy.

Does this sound like a set-up, or what? Maybe not, unless you have seen Duris’ previous films, in which case you know this bad boy will stand for all this wealth and success for long. He has to find some way to blow it all, to mess up the deal and to die alone and in lonely humiliation. After all, is this French drama, or what?

The film trots along at a nice pace, and growing guilt and fear on Paul’s part, as his back story is revealed. His zillion dollar legal success is actually a cover for the fact that he lacked the guts to pursue his real love, which was photography. His pal and former photo geek comrade Grégoire (Eric Ruf) pursued his dream and made a success out of it. He is making a fraction of the money Paul pulls in, but, after, all, he is pursuing the higher goal of fine art.

Well, you just have to go along with it. Paul is a millionaire genius lawyer failure and his friend is a Nikon snapping magazine illustrator success story. Underscoring Paul’s “failure” is the fast that Greg is going to steal his wife in the near future, emasculating the gutless Paul once and for all. With friends like this in France, who needs enemies?

That is as far as this review will go in the way of spoilers. You can figure the rest out for yourself, or, better yet, go see the flick and watch the inimitable Romain Duris sweat, as only he can. About two dozen Cesar nominations for the main actors in the film and hundreds of credits testify to the quality of the acting. Although the acting is first rate, the plot does not fall far from the tree of cinematic murder mysteries. Luscious cinematography by two-time Cesar nominee Laurent Dailland make this a great film for a rainy Sunday afternoon, even without a scintillating screenplay.

Although this movie will not make history in the field of crime screenplays, there is a certain self-examination and self-flagellation that suits the character of Paul Exben very well. Even better, it suits the temperament and mien of Duris to a tee. In the end, Paul gets what he wants and what he dreads at the same time. He is forced to decide for once and for all if he wants to try for wealth, again, or commit himself to a life of poverty stricken artistic achievement.

There is even a bit of ironic humor stuck in there, somewhere, as Paul’s Midas’ Touch threatens to be his ultimate undoing. In the end, it is best to accept what we are and go where our hearts lead us. Unless, that is, our pal is canoodling our wife, in which case all bets are off.

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Directed by: Eric Lartigau
Written by: Eric Lartigau, Laurent de Bartillat, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bernard Jeanjean and Stéphane Cabel, based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy
Starring: Romain Duris, Marina Foïs and Niels Arestrup
Release Date: October 12, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 114 minutes
Country: France
Language: French
Color: Color