Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Luc Besson really is a talented filmmaker. Honest. Having helmed the likes of Nikita, Leon and The Big Blue, it's clear he's got an eye for the stylish shots. As a producer, he's got a nose for a hit, from Tommy Lee Jones' Three Burials to Ong Bak and the Taxi franchise (fourth sequel revving at the moment). As a writer, he's got an ear for the dialogue that can draw us into a film and keep us entertained. Er, "Mangalores won't fight without the leader".

Anyhow, combining these features to face up a new film, you'd think we might end up with a pretty pleasing result. Maybe this time?

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Sadly, the non-stop nature of the Besson film machine still seems to be affecting his quality control. This is another considered but misfiring piece that unfortunately doesn't herald a return to former triumphs.

Perhaps rightly so, some might argue, as with Angel-A Besson has deliberately gone for something new. This in itself has a charm and he has talent enough to give it an idiosyncratic style, but unfortunately it's still not enough to carry the film. Cool black and white cinematography will only get you so far.

Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is a bottom-feeding con man hustling his way through the streets of Paris. We find him at the end of his tether, up to his eyeballs in debt and other people's knuckles. Just as his frayed knot is coming undone, into his life jumps the mysterious, beautiful and sexy Angela (Rie Rasmussen) and, in adversity, a commitment to keep each other away from suicide is soon struck. Now Andre actually has a real friend, can she help him see the light in the bleak city streets?

One guess. Right from the start the characters are broad-brushstroked into their modern city landscape and the episodic and whimsical road map of their odd-couple relationship is never really in doubt. There's a totally predictable plot 'revelation' halfway through that leads to an inevitable denouement. With the film's raison d'etre hinging on both, you can't help but feel short-changed.

Debbouze (of Amelie fame) revels in the role of Andre and is clearly having fun as the lead for once, inflecting his self-deluding no-hoper with a nervous energy and believable pathos. The stunningly attractive Rasmussen, on the other hand, takes too long to settle in her role to really convince. Could this be justified by the central plot 'twist'? Sadly, I think not, and it may be more to do with Besson's ad hoc filming style when roaming the French capital for locations.

Both do have a good crack at Besson's screenplay, which is no mean feat. Rather than relying on a narrative that drives set action pieces, Besson has deliberately crafted an intimate two-hander that gives the pair much sparky dialogue to share. This is all well and good until this damn plot 'twist', which opens the bomb bay doors for them both to assault us with cod psychology, wistful diet-existentialism, theo-philosophising and full-on romance. There are touching moments, but in going for something artfully heartfelt, Besson has reduced the initially intriguing premise to the shallow, superficial and predictable.

What just about keeps you watching is the black and white photography that he pulls into play. B & W suits Paris like a smouldering Gauloise and Besson definitely finds the shots, both interior and exterior. This, along with the pseudo-intellectual script, gives the piece a certain flavour to savour. Ultimately, though, they combine to produce an amusing curio that's just not as clever as it seems to think it is.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2006
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Paris & philososphy, black & white, rom & com.
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Read more Angel-A reviews:

Hotcow ****
Chris ***1/2

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Rie Rasmussen, Gilbert Melki, Serge Riaboukine, Akim Chir, Eric Balliet

Year: 2005

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


Sundance 2007

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