Racer and the Jailbird: Fast cars, beautiful bank robbers, and that’s it

Review: Don’t be fooled by the prettiness. This is a film going nowhere, and not fast enough

What ought to have been a sleek romantic heist movie is quickly overcomplicated

Film Title: Racer and the Jailbird

Director: Michaël R. Roskam

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 130 min

Wed, Jul 11, 2018, 10:01

   

Fast cars. Beautiful people. Bank robberies. Don’t be fooled by the pacey opening and pretty packaging. The third feature from the undeniably talented Belgian genre director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead, The Drop) has no particularly satisfactory place to go, and requires more than two hours to get there.

Racer and the Jailbird opens as professional driver Bibi comes off the track and unzips her suit to reveal Adèle Exarchopoulos, the magnetic lead of Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Gigi, played by Matthias Schoenaerts at his most wounded and masculine, is immediately smitten. Smouldering sex scenes ensue with the half-Flemish charmer with an import-export car business.

Gigi has a secret. He’s a gangster who robs banks with a criminal gang who, of course, are like family. (His biological family, as a brief overture establishes, were no great shakes and – pay attention – left Gigi with a fear of dogs.)

For almost an hour, Exarchopoulos and Schoenaerts blaze up the screen. Bibi suspects her boyfriend isn’t entirely on the level when he returns from a bank heist with a black eye. He makes suspicious statements about poor bank security.

“It keeps us alive,” argues Gigi, when grilled. “A bit like you and your car racing,” in case you hadn’t made the connection for yourself.

Anyway, the genre thrills and spills are rather spoiled when Gigi’s Last Big Score goes wrong. Without the considerable chemistry of the central coupling, the screenplay, co-written by Roskum, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré, becomes increasingly desperate.

What ought to have been a sleek romantic heist movie is soon overcomplicated by a dizzying number of plot developments. Cancer is diagnosed. Albanian mobsters get involved. A baffling final shot may hint at vampirism or possibly grave robbing? Who knows? By then, all bets are off.

The film also seems to implode at the level of the scene. Nimble camerawork by Nicolas Karakatsanis and cuts by Alain Dessauvage give an early heist a little of the swagger of Michael Mann’s Heat (and show Gigi to be a kinder, gentler mobster).

A murky, later escape sequence is floundering in Flanders. Or possibly France.  

Open July 13th