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The Innocent

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Innocent
Photograph: Met Film

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

French director-star Louis Garrel’s fourth film is a fun, scattershot caper comedy that never truly convinces

There’s a scene in The Innocent where Clémence, played by Noémie Merlant, is sitting in a bland diner and orders a ‘Coke Zero with sugar’. That doubles as a pretty good descriptor of co-writer-director-star Louis Garrel’s likeable, frothy fourth flick as a filmmaker, a movie that mashes up crime film tropes with family drama, an under-seasoned romance and bits of farcical comedy into a watchable, but not completely satisfying, confection. 

The stupidly good-looking Garrel —who, as a performer, has worked for Bernardo Bertolucci, Xavier Dolan and Greta Gerwig in Little Women — plays Abel, a widower trying to come to terms with his actor mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) marrying Michel (Roschdy Zem), an ex-con she met teaching theatre in prison. After Michel sets up Sylvie with her dream flower shop, Abel begins to get suspicious and, with the help of Clémence, a pal of his late wife, starts to investigate. Cue broad, entertaining scenes of inept surveillance and sleuthing that recall the heyday of Jacques Clouseau — a scene involving a stakeout in a parked car is priceless. 

As a filmmaker, Garrel shows some imagination: the aquarium Abel works in is beautifully lit, split screens and silent film iris effects pop in and out, and the French synth-pop soundtrack provides extra zip. Crucially, though, you never feel he has a complete grasp of tone. The film swings from car chases to navel-gazing conversations but never coalesces into a controlled, coherent feel. There’s a haphazard quality about The Innocent that makes you wonder what a surer hand – a Steven Soderbergh or a Rian Johnson – would have done with the same material.

Merlant and Garrel make engaging, reluctant partners-in-crime

There’s an idea buried in here about the relationship between acting and lying, or how play informs real life and vice-versa, but Garrel doesn’t really have anything to say about it. Still, the notion finds its place in a terrific set-piece where Abel and Clémence, pulled into a heist involving Iranian caviar, are put through their actorly paces as they rehearse their part as a deliberate distraction in an elaborate con. One of them displays the improvisational chops to go toe-to-toe with De Niro; the other would struggle opposite Jason Statham. 

Even if the outcome to their relationship is obvious from the get-go, Merlant and Garrel make engaging, reluctant partners-in-crime. Merlant, in particular, is grounded but charming, having a ball in a much lighter register than her previous turns in Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Tár. Zem straddles the line between charismatic and thuggish perfectly, sewing some seeds of doubt that Abel might have simply misjudged Michel. 

The result, if you can get past some of its absurdities, is a slight, enjoyable, lightweight jaunt. Just don’t expect anything more. 

In UK cinemas Aug 25.

Ian Freer
Written by
Ian Freer

Cast and crew

  • Director:Louis Garrel
  • Screenwriter:Louis Garrel, Naïla Guiguet, Tanguy Viel
  • Cast:
    • Louis Garrel
    • Roschdy Zem
    • Noémie Merlant
    • Anouk Grinberg
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