The Big Hit


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Big Hit
"Less would be more, as Beckett knew all too well."

Emmanuel Courcol channels the feel-good energy of films like The Full Monty or Francophone dramedy Sink Or Swim for his latest, which fictionalises the true story of Swedish actor Jan Jönson's attempt to help prisoners stage a version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot.

Transporting the action to France, versatile star Kad Merat takes on the role of Étienne Carboni, an actor whose dreams of becoming a household name have remained just that. Étienne's latest project sees him venture inside the walls of a prison to provide theatre workshops for the inmates. It is here that he becomes inspired to try to stage Beckett's absurdist classic - after all, he reasons, few are more familiar with the concept of waiting in the same place and performing the same rituals day after day than prisoners.

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Courcol's film unfolds across its ensemble as Étienne works with Patrick (David Ayala), Kamel (Sofian Khammes), Moussa (Wabinlé Nabié), Jordan (Pierre Lottin), Alex (Lamine Cissokho) and Boïko (Alexandre Medvedev) on the piece. Lottin gets the best of the meat, as his, more or less illiterate character, fights with and ultimately conquers Lucky's monologue. The rest is an amiable affair - which is no doubt the reason it was selected as the opening film of this year's French Film Festival UK - touching lightly on the idea of "escape" in the figurative sense of the phrase, as the prisoners surprise themselves by becoming increasingly moved by the play. But there are a lot of characters and much ground to cover, not just in terms of the initial six months as the inmates learn the play, but beyond, as the troupe find themselves suddenly in more limelight than they imagined - all which gives little time for Courcol to pause for breath.

Those who are familiar with Waiting For Godot will get the most out of the film, as they will more easily be able to see the connection with Beckett's humanistic consideration of his tramps and the prisoners' lives but, paradoxically, they are also the most likely to find it frustrating, as Courcol and his co-writer Thierry de Carbonnières has a tendency to skim the surface, often all too keen to take an easy bit of physical comedy than emotions that require more heavy lifting.

Étienne's slightly strained relationship with his daughter is just one example of unnecessary subplotting in a film that is already filled to bursting with characters, so that the end result is the very opposite of Beckett's stripped back approach. It's not that Courcol's film lacks substance but that it whips past its array of issues - from estrangement to parenthood in prison and the dehumanisation of the guards' pat-down process to the importance of progressive wardens (here personified by Marina Hinds) - at such a speed that we never get to really feel the texture of anything. The end result is pleasant while it lasts but fails to leave much of a trace. Less would be more, as Beckett knew all too well.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2021
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The Big Hit packshot
Drama about a prison theatre workshop, who are staging Waiting For Godot.
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Director: Emmanuel Courcol

Writer: Khaled Amara, Emmanuel Courcol, Thierry de Carbonnières

Starring: Kad Merad, David Ayala, Lamine Cissokho, Sofian Khammes, Pierre Lottin, Wabinlé Nabié, Aleksandr Medvedev, Saïd Benchnafa, Marina Hands, Laurent Stocker, Mathilde Courcol-Rozès, Catherine Lascault, Yvon Martin, Adama Bathily, Brigitte Froment

Year: 2020

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: France

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