Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) is just a few weeks away from the end of his prison sentence for bank robbery. Not only is he looking forward to returning home to his beautiful wife, Anna (Caterina Murino) and lovely daughter, Amelie (Jaia Caltagirone), but he's also got the haul from the robbery stashed away, which the police are still interested in finding. His cellmate, Jean-Louis Maurel (Stephane Debac), is accused of molesting a teen girl, but maintains his innocence, prompting Franck to defend him in a fight. Jean-Louis' accuser drops the charges, but Franck gets six months added to his sentence. As Jean-Louis is leaving, Franck gives him a message to pass to Anna about the location of the money. The next day, Franck has a horrifying visitor: a cop, Manuel (Sergi Lopez) who has spent years trying to link Jean-Louis to a series of sexual abuse / murder victims (including his deceased wife), but can't quite prove it.
French thriller The Prey is kinda like an update of The Fugitive, with one or two new layers to give it a unique flavor (well, until the recently-announced American remake surfaces, that is). The primary twist on formula is that Franck is not a noble or even particularly nice person, and the threat is constantly in flux. Days or even weeks pass between the time Manuel visits Franck in prison and the moment he's able to escape, during which time Franck's flimsy leads on where Jean-Louis is or may be going quickly disintegrate. One could argue it makes no difference whether or not the audience likes Franck as a person as long as they're sympathetic to his cause, but Dupontel's performance strikes a nice balance between his distrust for the cops and desperation to save his daughter, which makes for a much more interesting character than another "everyman", not to mention more 21st century.
If Franck is the modern Richard Kimble, his Sam Gerard is equally modernized: the cop on his tail is a woman, Claire Linne (Alice Taglioni), who transferred from a dangerous, high-profile drug kingpin case to tracking Franck, which she views as a demotion. The character is professional without being stiff or uptight, and focused without being too dedicated. It's something that rarely appears in American films: she's a cop on the case, and a good one, with no focus on her emotional backstory. The film is refreshing in its adherence to that no-frills biography, with Taglioni's performance filling out the other biases and attitudes the viewer needs to know. There is also very little conflict in the story based around the fact that she's a woman: a single repeated phrase cuts deep enough, and the resolution of that minor thread is one of the film's biggest laughs.
With Jean-Louis, the film doesn't pull its punches. The character is a scumbag, and Debac embraces the despicable side of his character as fully as the faux-charming side. At times, Jean-Louis is manipulative and clever enough that there's the risk of character becoming a spoof of itself, too over-the-top to be believable, but Debac walks that line, suddenly shifting the audience's focus back to the uncomfortable truth. The film also examines the disturbing details of the relationship between Jean-Louis and his wife Christine (Natacha Regnier) that allows him to commit his awful crimes in a cold-blooded sequence where he and Christine pick up a young woman that Jean-Louis has been following (Claire Bouanich). Lopez also makes an impression as the obsessed police officer, even though his role is, inevitably, burdened with most of the exposition.
Director Eric Valette and co-writers Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi work hard to ground the film in reality. During his frantic race to find Jean-Louis, Franck takes a beating and must live with the bruises, and generally gets away by chance rather than clever strategy. A fight scene is made exciting through sheer visceral intensity rather than camera tricks or clever choreography. The character motivations are all drawn in broad emotional strokes, saving the screenwriters the trouble of adding unnecessary backstory. All we need to know is that Franck loves his wife and daughter and will stop at nothing to save them, who remain present through the use of brief daydream sequences. During the film's final minutes, there are more than a couple inelegant instances of characters acting dumb (which are made more annoying because these little moments could've been written out without changing the scenes at all), but they're small blemishes on an impressively streamlined chase thriller.
The Prey's theatrical poster art (of Dupontel and Taglioni racing down a freeway ramp) is framed inside Cohen Media Group's "C" logo, as per their usual Blu-Ray design template. (Personally, I think their template would look better with a thinner black border, or perhaps no black border at all.) On the back, the "C" is flipped to box in some stills and the box copy. The disc comes in a transparent Viva Elite Blu-Ray case with another action image showing through on the reverse of the cover insert, and there is also a booklet with chapter selections and a cast list.
The Video and Audio
Viewers hearts may sink at the beginning of Cohen Media's 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation of The Prey, thanks to heavy banding during the opening credits, but it's a quibble. The scenes that follow are crisp, colorful, and extremely detailed -- in terms of clarity, this is one of the best Blu-Ray transfers I've watched in awhile. In low-light scenes, a very light amount of that banding can infrequently be spotted, and blacks might be a tiny bit crushed in a couple of scenes, but neither of these things take away from an otherwise great transfer. The image is paired up with a rich, action-friendly French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which . Dialogue is also nicely rendered with a great saturation in the film's atmosphere, which starts out inside the cold, cramped prison walls (featuring the expected fights, but also an unexpected piano / cello concert, and a well-timed Wilhelm Scream), then opens up into gunfights and chases in the wide outdoors. Despite the minor quibbles, this is what modern HD is all about. A horribly flat English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub is also included, which is offered before the main menu as "English Version."
Two major extras are offered, both in HD. The first is "Behind the Scenes on The Prey" (38:09), which jumps between rehearsal and shooting of several of the film's big sequences. Interviews with cast and crew are captured on the fly, with the occasional, brief film clip dropped in occasionally just to illustrate the end result of everyone's hard work. Nothing remarkable, but definitely a cut above the usual EPK fare.
The other extra is an interview with Eric Valette (13:29) where he discusses the genesis of the project and how he guided it from script stage through to the finished feature, and what his goals were, citing his interest in sticking close to reality ("without bubblegum characters living in a bubblegum world"). This feature contains additional B-roll, but it's a little dry in comparison to the longer doc.
Trailers for You Will Be My Son, The Artist and the Model, and Chicken With Vinegar play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for The Prey is also included.
The Prey may not be a deep or thematically resonant movie, but it's a great thriller that cuts down on ridiculousness and does a good job of sketching its characters. Given how hard that seems to be for American filmmakers, it's a wonderfully refreshing adrenaline rush. Recommended.
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