Friday, 21 July 2017

Keyboard warrior: "Scribe"

Scribe - the rather prosaic English name for what was originally titled La Mécanique de l'Ombre - arrives as another of those efficient timewasters the French cinema occasionally dispatches our way: for at least half an hour, it's essentially a man sat at a typewriter, and you may find yourself wondering if it took director Thomas Kruithof and co-writer Yann Gozlan that long to knock the idea out. In narrative terms, c'est une espèce de Conversation: François Cluzet (go-to guy for these thrillers since the international success of 2006's Tell No One) plays Duval, an alcoholic wash-up handed what he takes to be a midlife career boost transcribing a series of surveillance recordings for shadowy suit Denis Podalydès; what begins as a benign moneyspinner breaks bad once our hero twigs these chats have something to do with an upcoming election, and the murder of a prominent Arab businessman.

To its credit, the film sets out into what's now unfashionable, neo-Hitchcockian territory, landing as vaguely exotic at a moment when British crime thrillers are almost exclusively thick-eared, meat-and-potatoes affairs, lacking the GCSEs required for subterfuge. Cluzet gives it his usual rumpled gravitas, and Kruithof affixes each scene with a patina of style, seeking out crepuscular Parisian locations while shooting ominous close-ups of tape passing over recorder heads as the plot unfolds. Yet from the midpoint on, that plot doesn't thicken so much as drastically thin, the tension dissipating with the appearance of every new stern-faced figure entering shot to reveal a little bit more of the conspiracy. As a calling-card movie, it does just enough to catch the eye, but not enough to hold it: where the very best paranoid thrillers lodge in your gut and assume the weight of personal or national tragedy, Scribe passes altogether briskly through the system, dealing not so much in obsession as distraction.

Scribe opens in selected cinemas from today, ahead of its DVD release on August 7.    

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