Manhunt: The Prey Is a Bouillabaisse of Suspenseful Energy and Implausible Realism

The Prey

The Prey

The Prey is a busy French thriller that hits the ground running. With more action than one of the Jason Bourne programmers, it’s a strenuous stew of violent surprises and expeditious plot twists that force you to pay attention and stay glued to subtitles that move so fast you will undoubtedly feel a strong need to watch it with your hand on the pause button.

Director Eric Valette has been accused by French critics of mixing too many metaphors in switching gears from prison escape drama to gritty police procedural to breathless manhunt, but there is no denying he knows how to keep a handful of balls in the air at the same time without a fumble. Basic plot: while a bank robber named Franck Adrient (played by rugged Albert Dupontel with a face like fried batter) awaits parole to get his hands on hidden money from a heist, everyone around him strives to beat him to the punch. His wife barely has enough to pay the grocery bill, not to mention their mute daughter’s speech therapist. His newly acquitted cellmate Maurel (Stephane Debac), a convicted pedophile who convinces the police he is innocent, owes him his life. The other prisoners, aided by the corrupt guards, try to torture the location of the buried treasure out of him by driving a screwdriver through his eardrum. Did I mention that The Prey is unbearably (sometimes unwatchably) violent?

When Franck discovers he’s been betrayed on the outside by former cellmate and trusted friend Maurel, who turns out to be a serial killer, he orchestrates an elaborate escape, and the film changes tempos. Maurel frames Franck for his own crimes by stealing the DNA from his comb, steals his money, murders his wife and kidnaps his daughter, and the cops, led by Claire Linne (played by Alice Taglioni as the French version of Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU), turn Franck into the most wanted man in France. The action is intense to the point of exhaustion, and the hero’s harrowing survivals are next door to preposterous, yet the movie keeps you going, freezes your breath and never flags. Scaling bridges, escaping from impossible heights onto crowded freeways, jumping aboard speeding trains, Franck is a cross between James Bond and Spider-Man.  The plot thickens into a bouillabaisse of narrative detours. Franck’s only ally is a former gendarme (Sergi Lopez, best known as the psychopath from Pan’s Labyrinth) whose own life has been destroyed by the sinister Maurel. One by one, everyone who believed in his innocence is eliminated, and Franck ends up on his own, tracked and pursued by myriad elements while he tries to outsmart the real villain and rescue his 5-year-old daughter from a maniac. There’s no time for the mind to wander.

Okay, The Prey is ridiculous hokum that proves the French can make overwrought Hollywood thrillers with the same indefatigable energy and implausible realism as anyone else. It is also a slick, suspenseful adrenalin rush disguised as unexpected, nerve-wracking fun.

rreed@observer.com

Written by Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi

Directed by Eric Valette

Starring Albert Dupontel, Alice Taglioni and Stéphane Debac

Running time: 102 mins.

Rating: 3/4 stars