‘Amour noir’ is Flemish director Michaël R Roskam’s description of ‘Racer and the Jailbird’. A heady cocktail of crime, passion and miserable Belgian weather, it initially fizzes on the back of its charismatic leads, Roskam regular Matthias Schoenaerts (‘Bullhead’, ‘The Drop’) and ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ breakout star Adèle Exarchopoulos, yet falls fail of the law of diminishing returns.
Divided into three separate episodes, it’s a movie that relies on its central pairing’s chemistry and Schoenarts and Exarchopoulos have it in spades. He is Gigi, a career criminal masquerading as an importer/exporter. She is Bibi, a race-car driver who comes third in touring car meetings. The setup draws obvious parallels between the thrill of crime and the need for speed as the pair become intensely entangled, Gigi refusing to tell Bibi the truth about his nefarious activities. Roskam also breaks out two exhilarating robbery sequences straight out of the Michael Mann playbook, the second an audacious hold up involving a lorry dropped from a bridge.
But when Gigi gets caught for the latter (the spoiler is in the title) the film loses its main assets, chiefly cool crime scenes and the heat between Schoenarts and Exarchopoulos, morphing into a lacklustre bride-of-a-convict movie. If that wasn’t bad enough, the final third swerves into another genre altogether that stretches credulity to breaking point. What started as something as sexy and gripping ends up strangely melancholic and sentimental. Both the Racer and the Jailbird deserved better.