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  Second Wind, The One Last Score
Year: 2009
Director: Alain Corneau
Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Monica Bellucci, Michel Blanc, Jacques Dutronc, Eric Cantona, Gilbert Melki, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Daniel Duval, Philippe Nahon
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: As the 1950s draw to a close, French gangster Gustav Minda (Daniel Auteuil) escapes prison to be reunited with his girlfriend Manouche (Monica Bellucci), now managing a chic Parisian nightclub aided by his buddy Alban (Eric Cantona). After saving his friends from an assassination attempt orchestrated by lowlife Joe Ricci (Gilbert Melki), ‘Gu’ has his sights set on a fresh start. To do that he needs money. By a twist of fate, Joe’s older, smarter brother Venture Ricci (Daniel Duval) ropes Gu into pulling a gold bullion heist alongside young colleague Antoine Ripa (Nicholas Duvauchelle). The robbery scores them a fortune but some time later, super-shrewd Inspector Blot (Michel Blanc) and brutal Inspector Fardiano (Philippe Nahon) collar Gu and trick him into trapping Venture. Now wrongly considered a rat by the criminal fraternity, Gu flees prison a second time, driven to settle the score.

This second adaptation of crime novel Un reglement de comptes sets itself a high task in that it follows Le deuxième souffle (1966), one of the greatest works by the masterful Jean-Pierre Melville which starred the iconic Lino Ventura. Fortunately, screenwriter-director Alain Corneau has an illustrious crime-thriller pedigree of his own, going back to a run of cracking concoctions with superstar Yves Montand: Police Python .357 (1976); La Menace (1977); and Le choix des armes (1981). Since those heady days, Corneau has branched out into black comedy with Serie noire (1979); an all-star war epic with Fort Saganne (1984) - at that time the most expensive film made in France; historical drama with the acclaimed Tous Les Matins Du Monde (1991); and social realism in Les Mots Bleus (2005); but The Second Wind takes him back to his roots and bristles with a style and vigour one normally associates with a young filmmaker.

Corneau dedicates his film to the original author José Giovanni, one of the architects of the French crime-thriller and himself an accomplished director, usually of star vehicles for some of French cinema’s finest: La Scoumoune (1972) with Jean-Paul Belmondo; Deux Hommes dans la Ville (1973) with Alain Delon and Jean Gabin; Commes le Boomerang (1976) with Delon; and the goofy spaghetti western-styled action-comedy Le Ruffian (1983) with Lino Ventura and Claudia Cardinale. And yet in terms of its preoccupations, the style is closer to Melville in its juxtaposition of psychological realism with stylised, near-fetishistic set-pieces. Where Melville’s original was black and white, Corneau and his cinematographer Yves Angelo coat the countryside in burnished amber and drench their luxurious interiors in chic neon so they carry the same dreamlike intensity of Le Samurai (1967) and Le Circle Rouge (1970), but amp up the slow-mo violence and cartoonish gore.

With its weather-beaten character actors in fedoras and trenchcoats, philosophical asides and preoccupation with issues of trust, loyalty and honour between contrasted criminals and cops, the film risks being closer to a Melville pastiche than fresh take on familiar material. However, Melville gangster chic is a class above Guy Ritchie gangster chic and Corneau’s skilful direction ensures that, even at 149 minutes, this races along splendidly with an array of tense, witty set-pieces. Interestingly, where in most movies a gangster’s downfall arises from greed or madness, Gustav falters through his obsessive need to prove his moral superiority. As in the films of Melville’s most famous disciple, John Woo, this finds a gangster with old-fashioned ethics and honour steadily swamped by an array of baser villains and crooked cops.

It is impeccably acted, with Daniel Auteuil contributing another classy, world-weary lead turn, while Michel Blanc steals scenes as the remarkably sharp-witted Blot (although a scene where he mourns his dead son feels tacked on), Jacques Dutronc engages as laidback hitman Orloff, and Eric Cantona - probably the best footballer-turned-actor (and yes I am including Pélé) - makes a credible gangster. Even if he does flinch whenever he fires his gun. While Melville was not so hot with women, here Monica Bellucci - blonde in scarlet - smoulders as a stoic gangster’s moll, smart and steadfastly loyal to her man. The film climaxes in an ornately choreographed shootout and an simple, elegant sequence that illustrates how, after all that blood and thunder, life goes on.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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