The Big Picture Review
The presence of Romain Duris and Niels Arestrup in a crime thriller, the two of them having previously appeared on the screen together in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, should provide a clear enough indication that Eric Lartigau’s adaptation of another American-originated thriller (based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy) aims to take a similar high-concept but commercially accessible approach to the genre in the style of Jacques Audiard. The Big Picture also benefits from having Juliette Welfling, the editor of all of Audiard’s features on board, ensuring that there is a similar impeccable sense of pacing here which, when combined with the ever charismatic presence of Romain Duris, should be more than enough to carry the viewer through some of the rather surprising developments that take place as the storyline takes on a life and momentum all of its own.
Duris plays Paul Exben, a successful partner in a law firm who seems to have everything – a successful career, a big house, a beautiful wife, a young family. He even has the money to indulge in all the latest high-tech equipment for his interest in photography, but he never really has the time to explore the talent he undoubtedly has in this area. Gradually Paul comes to realise that not only has he let life take him in a direction that he didn’t consciously choose for himself, but it is threatening to consume him. His partner at the law firm, Anne, (Catherine Deneuve) is being forced to step down due to illness, but Paul isn’t ready to take on the responsibility for the business. Conflicted about the direction his life is taking and concerned about Anne’s health, Paul’s life is further set into turmoil by the suspicion that his wife, Sarah (Marina Foïs) could be having an affair.
It’s set against this background that a terrible event takes place that gives Paul the opportunity to leave everything behind, including his name and identity and restart his life practically from scratch. If the nature of what happens is rather melodramatic and, well, the kind of thing that only happens in thrillers and the movies – the connections with The Talented Mr Ripley are very obvious, particularly when the setting of the original novel is restored to Europe – it’s made somewhat credible by how Paul reacts, and every painful realisation, every conflicted emotion and the true horror of what he contemplates and has difficulty going through with, is reflected brilliantly in a strong and compelling performance from Romain Duris. If the character development and motivations aren’t always quite as strong as they would be in a corresponding thriller of this type from Jacques Audiard (or indeed Patricia Highsmith), the film does at least initially raise some interesting questions relating to identity and success, in how Paul defines himself, and how his ability to achieve personal satisfaction is determined by modern expectations and particularly by life in the big city.
This raises another issue when Paul attempts to start a new life for himself. Is it possible in this modern technical age with instant worldwide communication to achieve perfect success and keep one’s anonymity? Or, if we don’t want to take it all too literally, the film could be looked upon as highlighting another aspect of the difficulty of retaining one’s integrity in the modern age, when there are so many outside demands and expectations. One doubts that Tom Ripley’s activities would have remained undetected for long in a modern-day context, and similarly, it proves near impossible for Paul Exben to hide his light under a bushel when everyone has access to a powerful Google search engine. Unfortunately, even those theoretical questions are never explored in any great detail – or even treated with any realism – and the longer The Big Picture goes on, the further from sight these ideas sink and with them any sense of originality, purpose or indeed credibility the film might have had.