The Snake (2006)

Rating: B-

Dir: Eric Barbier
Star: Yvan Attal, Clovis Cornillac, Minna Haapkyla, Pierre Richard
a.k.a. Le Serpent

Photographer Vincent Mandel (Attal) is going through a sticky divorce from his wife, Helene (Haapkyla), the daughter of a rich financier. When one of his models (Olga Kurylenko, not as big a role as the sleeve would have you think!) trumps up a rape accusation, it looks like a simple case of the facts being manipulated – but after the model then falls to her death, it becomes clear that there is more going on then meets the eye. The man pulling the strings behind the scenes is Joseph Plender (Cornillac), a former French Legionnaire turned private investigator with a sideline in blackmail – who, it turns out, also went to school with Vincent, and is not the good friend he seems at first.

Plender sets himself up on Helene’s side in their custody battle, which gets increasingly nasty, with Vincent being accused of the model’s murder. In order to prove his innocence, he must show Plender and the victim had a previous relationship, and that involves tracking down one of his blackmail targets, and somehow convincing him to come forward, out of the shadows. There’s a good deal more than the above going on, but a big part of the pleasure here is in watching things unfold, and the twists and turns the story takes on the way to its (admittedly, probably rather far-fetched) conclusion. The novel on which this was based was written by Ted Lewis, who also wrote the book that inspired Get Carter, and there’s the same sense of grubby noir here.

Though in this case, it’s the villain who is mostly responsible for that aspect. The first half is likely more successful than the second, containing an impressive number of unexpected moments that leave you wondering where it will all end up. I’m not quite as convinced by the eventual direction, which abandons its well-conceived and rigorous structure in favour of something that appears relatively lazy in comparison. Yet it’s still solidly entertaining, and the 116 minutes went by extremely quickly. If there’s nothing particularly Gallic here, it shows that France can be the match of Hollywood, when it comes to popping out slick psychological thrillers like this.